That banana peel, turned into graphene, can help facilitate a massive reduction of the environmental impact of concrete and other building materials. While you’re at it, toss in those plastic empties.
A new process introduced by the Rice University lab of chemist James Tour can turn bulk quantities of just about any carbon source into valuable graphene flakes. The process is quick and cheap; Tour said the “flash graphene” technique can convert a ton of coal, waste food or plastic into graphene for a fraction of the cost used by other bulk graphene-producing methods.
“This is a big deal,” Tour said. “The world throws out 30% to 40% of all food, because it goes bad, and plastic waste is of worldwide concern. We’ve already proven that any solid carbon-based matter, including mixed plastic waste and rubber tires, can be turned into graphene.”
As reported in Nature, flash graphene is made in 10 msec by heating carbon-containing materials to 3,000 Kelvin (about 5,000° F). The source material can be nearly anything with carbon content. Waste food, plastic waste, petroleum coke, coal, wood clippings and biochar are prime candidates, Tour said. “With the present commercial price of graphene being $67,000 to $200,000 per ton, the prospects for this process look superb,” he said.
Tour said a concentration of as little as 0.1% of flash graphene in the cement used to bind concrete could lessen its massive environmental impact by a third. Production of cement reportedly emits as much as 8% of human-made carbon dioxide every year.
“By strengthening concrete with graphene, we could use less concrete for building, and it would cost less to manufacture and less to transport,” he said. “Essentially, we’re trapping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane that waste food would have emitted in landfills. We are converting those carbons into graphene and adding that graphene to concrete, thereby lowering the amount of carbon dioxide generated in concrete manufacture. It’s a win-win environmental scenario using graphene.”
“Turning trash to treasure is key to the circular economy,” said co-corresponding author Rouzbeh Shahsavari, an adjunct assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and of materials science and nanoengineering at Rice and president of C-Crete Technologies. “Here, graphene acts both as a 2D template and a reinforcing agent that controls cement hydration and subsequent strength development.”
In the past, Tour said, “graphene has been too expensive to use in these applications. The flash process will greatly lessen the price while it helps us better manage waste.”
“With our method, that carbon becomes fixed,” he said. “It will not enter the air again.”
The process aligns nicely with Rice’s recently announced Carbon Hub initiative to create a zero-emissions future that repurposes hydrocarbons from oil and gas to generate hydrogen gas and solid carbon with zero emission of carbon dioxide. The flash graphene process can convert that solid carbon into graphene for concrete, asphalt, buildings, cars, clothing and more, Tour said.
Flash Joule heating for bulk graphene, developed in the Tour lab by Rice graduate student and lead author Duy Luong, improves upon techniques like exfoliation from graphite and chemical vapor deposition on a metal foil that require much more effort and cost to produce just a little graphene.