Wonder material graphene has revealed another of its extraordinary properties - University of Manchester researchers have found that it is superpermeable with respect to water.
Graphene is one of the wonders of the science world, with the potential to create foldaway mobile phones, wallpaper-thin lighting panels and the next generation of aircraft. The new finding at The University of Manchester gives graphene’s potential a most surprising dimension – graphene can also be used for distilling alcohol.
In a report published in Science , a team led by Professor Sir Andre Geim shows that graphene-based membranes are impermeable to all gases and liquids (vacuum-tight). However, water evaporates through them as quickly as if the membranes were not there at all.
This newly-found property can now be added to the already long list of superlatives describing graphene. It is the thinnest known material in the universe and the strongest ever measured. It conducts electricity and heat better than any other material. It is the stiffest one too and, at the same time, it is the most ductile. Demonstrating its remarkable properties won University of Manchester academics the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.
Now the University of Manchester scientists have studied membranes from a chemical derivative of graphene called graphene oxide. Graphene oxide is the same graphene sheet but it is randomly covered with other molecules such as hydroxyl groups OH-. Graphene oxide sheets stack on top of each other and form a laminate.
The researchers prepared such laminates that were hundreds times thinner than a human hair but remained strong, flexible and were easy to handle.
When a metal container was sealed with such a film, even the most sensitive equipment was unable to detect air or any other gas, including helium, to leak through.
It came as a complete surprise that, when the researchers tried the same with ordinary water, they found that it evaporates without noticing the graphene seal. Water molecules diffused through the graphene-oxide membranes with such a great speed that the evaporation rate was the same independently whether the container was sealed or completely open.