Graphene membranes could clean up nuclear waste as well as produce the much needed heavy water running nuclear power plants. New research stemming from the University of Manchester and led by Sir Andre Geim proved that graphene membranes are efficiently separating the nuclei of hydrogen from those of hydrogen isotope deuterium.
The scientific paper published in the Science journal is the result of the experiment conducted by the research team, all at room temperature. The graphene membranes could clean up nuclear waste albeit initial models suggesting that the nuclei of hydrogen and deuterium could actually fall through.
With the application proving the two can be easily separated, large scale production of graphene membranes could change the way heavy water is produced. In addition, they could change how nuclear waste is cleaned up. Both processes require a vast array of resources. Producing heavy water is also highly energy intensive. Using graphene membranes instead could revolutionize heavy water production in a cost effective manner.
The graphene membranes have been likened to a sieve separating the different hydrogen isotopes. With just a few graphene sheets, the University of Manchester researchers created the graphene membranes which can sieve deuterium from hydrogen. Separating deuterium from hydrogen isn’t only energy intensive, but also very expensive. Filtering the two in such an easy manner can really prove a revolutionary step forward.
Basically, the graphene sheets were able to filter protons (nuclei of hydrogen atoms) from the heavier (and larger) deuterium nuclei. As the protons pass through the graphene membrane, the deuterium nuclei are left on the other side.
To prove the concept, the University of Manchester team created a device based on the graphene membranes the main output of which is hydrogen, while the input is hydrogen and hydrogen isotopes. According to Doctor Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo:
“This is really the first membrane shown to distinguish between subatomic particles, all at room temperature”.
In addition, Doctor Lozada-Hidalgo stated that since the University of Manchester team proved the technology is scalable, everyone is waiting real-life applications based on it. Graphene membranes can become the future of heavy water production and nuclear waste cleaning.
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