Thursday, May 23, 2024

How Graphene Can Help Solve Climate Change

(1) Graphene, a two-dimensional material of carbon atoms, has shown great potential in addressing climate change.

(2) A survey at Chalmers University of Technology now shows that there are potential technology-based solutions that can replace metals

How Graphene Can Help Solve Climate Change

In early June 2023 New York City, along with the northeastern area of North America, was blanketed in smoke from raging wildfires in both northern Quebec and Ontario. These fires are unprecedented in their scope and timing. Cities like New York and Toronto spent days with air quality advisories similar to New Delhi and Ho Chi Minh City. The blanketing smoke and septa skies were not just a convenient filter for Instagram pictures but a stark reminder of the dangers of climate change.

Climate Change and Wildfires

Climate change can increase the risk of wildfires in several ways. Rising temperatures and drought conditions can cause vegetation to dry out, making it more susceptible to ignition and allowing fires to spread more easily. Additionally, climate change can alter precipitation patterns, leading to longer dry seasons and more intense periods of rainfall, which can lead to more frequent and severe wildfires. Finally, climate change can also increase the frequency and intensity of lightning strikes, which are a major cause of wildfires.

By reducing the causes of climate change we can help reduce the frequency of wildfires. Changing our consumption habits is one method of reducing the impacts of climate change. Switching to renewable resources, and recycling more of our waste, are integral pieces of rebalancing our ecosystem. Special technological innovations can help in bringing a more ecologically friendly society, as fast as possible. One of those innovations is Graphene.

Graphene – The Magic Material

Graphene, a two-dimensional material of carbon atoms, has shown great potential in addressing climate change. One application of graphene is in the development of more efficient solar cells. Graphene’s high electrical conductivity and ability to absorb light across a broad spectrum make it an ideal material for improving the performance of solar cells. Additionally, graphene can also be useful in producing batteries with higher energy density, which can store renewable energy more efficiently. It can also create more durable and efficient water filtration membranes, which can help address water scarcity issues exacerbated by climate change. Finally, graphene is used to develop more sustainable building materials, such as concrete, which can reduce carbon emissions associated with traditional building materials.

As a material with several uses, graphene can boost the energy transition, moving us towards a sustainable future faster. Binghamton University Assistant Professor of Physics Ana Laura Elías and Rodolfo Cruz-Silva of the Research Initiative for Supramaterials and Aqua Global Innovation Centre in Japan’s Shinshu University are two researchers working with graphene to develop methods of “bio-mimicking,” in which synthetic materials could emulate biological systems. By copying biology graphene can be made strong and more sustainably. 

“I have high hopes for what we will do in the future, especially with energy applications,” Elias said. “Other two-dimensional materials such as tungsten and molybdenum sulphide, which I also work with, are very interesting and have applications in electronics. The research is very significant.”

Graphene – The Poverty Fighting Material

How Graphene Can Help Solve Climate Change

The connection between critical minerals like cobalt and poverty is very stark. Nations like the Democratic Republic of Congo have suffered years of war, violence and disaster because of our insatiable hunger for minerals that go into our electronic devices. But researchers working in graphene believe the way the material is made and sourced can end all that.

A survey at Chalmers University of Technology now shows that there are potential technology-based solutions that can replace metals with carbon nanomaterials, such as graphene. In a 2017 paper, the researchers state:

“Scarce metals such as tin, silver, tungsten and indium are both rare and difficult to extract since the workable concentrations are very small. This ensures the metals are highly sought after — and their extraction is a breeding ground for conflicts, such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where they fund armed conflicts.”

As a carbon nanomaterial graphene can replace any of these critical minerals. Materials made from carbon nanomaterials have good conductivity and are strong. Several scarce metals have similar properties. The metals are found, for example, in cables, thin screens, flame-retardants, corrosion protection and capacitors. Since graphene can be made on a scale in labs, it reduces the need to work with terrorist groups and illegal miners in areas like the DRC.

While technological solutions are not the silver bullet to ending the climate crisis, new technologies like graphene do play a role in making our lives more sustainable. By further introducing these new materials we can add biomimicry, ecology and sustainability to any number of industries.