American Elephants

Solving the Problem of Good Drinking Water for All by The Elephant's Child

Members of the political left often assume that if they just had complete control, they could fix all the annoyances that bother them so much, fix or at least repair human nature, create great inventions, do away with the political right—one of the truly major annoyances—everyone would be happy and get along. Anyone who is a member of a family knows that assumption to be absurd. Human nature is fixed, immutable, and unchangeable. Governments don’t create great inventions. Great inventions are oftentimes made by accident, and blundered into. One such discovery is graphene.

Andre Geim, a Russian-born scientist at the University of Manchester in Britain, and Konstantin Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for isolating graphene. Dr. Geim wanted thin graphite to study its electrical properties. A doctoral student suggested using cellophane tape.”They used the tape to peel off layers of graphite until they got to a layer so thin it was transparent. Not only did it not fall apart, it was strong, flexible and possessed astonishing electrical properties.”

Back in 2013 when I first wrote about graphene. I didn’t know there was such an occupation such as a materials scientist. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novosetov at Britain’s Manchester University were playing around with scotch tape and a lump of graphite in 2004. That resulted in a shared Nobel prize, knighthood, and a £61m National Graphene Institute.

As of May in 2004, it had resulted in more than 9,000 patent applications. Companies like Apple, Saab, Lockheed Martin, Nokia, BASF SE were interested, for potential uses such as filtering salt from seawater, flexible touch screens, anti-rust coatings, sports equipment like tennis racqets, DNA sequencing devices and distilling vodka. Labs all over the world are hard at work, including the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Research has shown that graphene is better than Kevlar at stopping bullets fired at supersonic speeds.

In 2015, I wrote about a graphene heating system that would dramatically reduce home energy costs from 25 to 75 percent. Now researchers from the University of Manchester have made a breakthrough in desalinization by using the “wonder material graphene.” They have designed a graphene oxide sieve to make seawater potable, and more importantly have tweaked the graphene composite in order to make it commercially scalable. The BBC reports:

[It] has been difficult to produce large quantities of single-layer graphene using existing methods, such as chemical vapour deposition (CVD). Current production routes are also quite costly.

On the other hand, said [Dr Rahul Nair], “graphene oxide can be produced by simple oxidation in the lab…In terms of scalability and the cost of the material, graphene oxide has a potential advantage over single-layered graphene.”

Though the material is only 13 years old, its potential for applications has surged dramatically ranging from better information and energy storage to faster transistors to more efficient lasers.

 Companies have worked to include graphene into the design of objects as small as a computer chip to as large as an airplane wing. It has been called the most flexible, most conductive, and strongest material in the world, and we’re just getting started on deploying it into manufacturing processes.

Part of the hold-up on this graphene boom has to do with how expensive and time consuming it is to manufacture. That’s where these graphene oxides come in, the production of which is evidently much simpler. The latest breakthrough involves using these graphene oxides to help ensure future water security, but there’s a lot more to be excited about when it comes to this miracle material.



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