Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Imperfect Graphene Opens Door to Better Fuel Cells


Membrane could lead to fast-charging batteries for transportation

The honeycomb structure of pristine graphene is beautiful, but a national group of researchers has discovered that if the graphene naturally has a few tiny holes in it, you have a proton-selective membrane that could lead to improved fuel cells.

University of Minnesota

Image of a hydroxylated defect site that allows for facile proton transfer through the pristine single-layer graphene substrate.

A major challenge in fuel cell technology is efficiently separating protons from hydrogen. In a study of single-layer graphene and water, scientists found that slightly imperfect graphene shuttles protons—and only protons—from one side of the graphene membrane to the other in mere seconds. The membrane’s speed and selectivity are much better than that of conventional membranes, offering engineers a new and simpler mechanism for fuel cell design.

The study was published March 17 in the journal Nature Communications.

“Imagine an electric car that charges in the same time it takes to fill a car with gas,” said Northwestern University chemist Franz M. Geiger, who led the research. “And better yet, imagine an electric car that uses hydrogen as fuel, not fossil fuels or ethanol, and not electricity from the power grid, to charge a battery. Our surprising discovery provides an electrochemical mechanism that could make these things possible one day.”

Defective single-layer graphene, it turns out, produces a membrane that is the world’s thinnest proton channel—only one atom thick. A team led Matthew Neurock, a University of Minnesota chemical engineering and materials science professor, worked with researchers at Penn State to use advance computer simulations to show how the protons transfer through the defect sites in graphene.

“This is a very exciting discovery that may lead to significant advances in proton exchange membrane fuel cells,” said Neurock.

In the atomic world of an aqueous solution, protons are pretty big, and scientists don’t believe they can be driven through a single layer of chemically perfect graphene at room temperature. (Graphene is a form of elemental carbon composed of a single flat sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a repeating hexagonal, or honeycomb, lattice.)

When the researchers studied graphene exposed to water, they found that protons were indeed moving through the graphene. Using cutting-edge laser techniques, imaging methods and computer simulations, they set out to learn how.

The researchers discovered that naturally occurring defects in the graphene where a carbon atom is missing triggers a chemical merry-go-round where protons from water on one side of the membrane are shuttled to the other side in a few seconds. Their advanced computer simulations showed this occurs via a classic “bucket-line” mechanism first proposed in 1806.

The thinness of the atom-thick graphene makes it a quick trip for the protons, Geiger said. With conventional membranes, which are hundreds of nanometers thick, proton selection takes minutes—much too long to be practical.

“We found if you just dial the graphene back a little on perfection, you will get the membrane you want,” Geiger said. “Everyone always strives to make really pristine graphene, but our data show if you want to get protons through, you need less perfect graphene.”

Next, the research team asked the question: How many carbon atoms do we need to knock out of the graphene layer to get protons to move through? Just a handful in a square micron area of graphene, the researchers calculated.

Removing a few carbon atoms results in others being highly reactive, which starts the proton shuttling process. Only protons go through the tiny holes, making the membrane very selective. (Conventional membranes are not very selective.)

“Our results will not make a fuel cell tomorrow, but it provides a mechanism for engineers to design a proton separation membrane that is far less complicated than what people had thought before,” Geiger said. “All you need is slightly imperfect single-layer graphene.”

The work was supported by the Fluid Interface Reactions, Structures and Transport (FIRST) Center, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences.

The paper in Nature Communications is titled “Aqueous Proton Transfer Across Single-Layer Graphene.” Authors of the paper are from Northwestern University, the University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Virginia, and the University of Puerto Rico.

Contact Information
Rhonda Zurn, University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering,, (612) 626-7959

Rhonda Zurn | newswise
Further information:

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>