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Protons Found to Pass Through Graphene

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 07:09AM

At times I wonder if we will ever stop finding new uses for graphene. It has previously been found that graphene is impermeable to gases and most liquids, so many expected protons to be blocked, just as hydrogen is. Researchers at the University of Manchester though have found that protons can slip through, which may lead to applications in fuel cells.

Graphene is an atom-thick sheet of carbon with a hexagonal structure to it, like chicken wire. This structure, it turns out is able to block every gas, including hydrogen and helium, and all liquids but water. Protons, which are hydrogen atoms without an electron, were expected to also be blocked, but when the researchers tested it, they found the protons slipped through easily, especially if the temperature was elevated or catalytic nanoparticles covered the graphene film. This ability to let protons but not hydrogen through could also be present in boron nitride, which is also called white graphene, as it has the same structure.

This discovery could have valuable applications with fuel cells, as a replacement to existing proton membranes. These membranes are meant to only allow protons through, but some of the fuel can slip through too, degrading the cell's performance. As graphene even a thin film of graphene would block the fuel, that degradation would be prevented. The researchers point out that graphene could be used to harvest hydrogen from the air, by applying a current to it.

Source: University of Manchester

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