Photo from ZME Science

A study recently published in the journal Nature showcased a promising research made by scientists at the Machester University in the UK: graphene batteries that can harvest energy from thin air. Graphene is a two-dimensional crystal discovered by a team of scientists from Manchester University back in 2004, headed by Nobel Prize for Physics winners Kostya Novoselov and Andrew Geim.

It’s about one million times thinner than human hair, yet it’s around 200 times stronger than steel and a lot harder than diamond. Its atomic structure is very similar to that of the lead found in regular pencils.

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This one-atom-thick crystal is impermeable to molecules and atoms, but scientists made a stunning discovery when they found out that protons from hydrogen atoms can easily pass through graphene membranes without a problem.

This promising discovery has paved the way for a possible revolution in the way fuel-cell batteries are being made.

In an interview with CNN, Dr. Sheng Hu, who is one of the researchers in the project, said:

“It looks extremely simple and equally promising. Because graphene can be produced these days in square meter sheets, we hope that it will find its way to commercial fuel cells sooner rather than later.”

The scientists believe that the use of graphene membranes to harvest hydrogen from the atmosphere is an ultimate game-changer, since it is likely to pave the way for researchers to come up with mobile electric generators that are powered only by hydrogen harvested from thin air in the near future.

Right now, hydrogen is only mostly acquired from fossil fuels.

Graphene was also found to be a better electricity conductor than copper, and scientists believe that the use of the material can revolutionize both the medical and the technology sectors in the future. But they were keen to admit that their research still has a long way to go. Dr. Hu added:

“We worked with small membranes, and the achieved flow of hydrogen is of course tiny so far. But this is the initial stage of discovery, and the paper is to make experts aware of the existing prospects. To build up and test hydrogen harvesters will require much further effort.”