How scientists accidentally turned trash into valuable graphene
What the Future
We waste a lot of food.
You've probably heard the numbers.
According to the United Nations, about a third of all food worldwide goes to waste.
But what if you could turn something like this, into something like this?
This idea kinda reminds you of Mr. Fusion from Back to the Future.
But scientists at Rice University have developed the method for turning virtually any material Into valuable graphene, now, if you're not familiar with graphene, it's been dubbed a kind of wonder material.
It's essentially a thin layer of graphite, but it's one of the strongest materials in the universe.
In fact, it's 200 times stronger than steel.
Alright, so how do you make this wonder material from trash?
Professor James Turan his team start by placing the source material, which is really anything carbon based between two electrodes.
Then they hit it with a short electrical pulse that instantaneously heats the material to about 3000 degrees centigrade all the non carbon elements.
Come distilling or subliming out and the only thing that remains is carbon and then as it cools it reconstructs so that it forms the most thermodynamically stable form of carbon which is graphene sheets of graphene,
The whole process takes just about 10 milliseconds.
That's why tour calls it flash graphene.
Now this is one of those discovered by accident moments in science.
One of Tour's grad students Dewey Long stumbled on the technique while he was experimenting with carbon, and so the impacts here seem pretty massive.
So what was your reaction the first time that you saw tangible results?
When he brought it to me I knew immediately how big this was going to be.
It was one of those exciting moments you get.
You get a few of those in a career when you look at something and you go, wow, this can really influence humanity for the good.
The upside here is pretty staggering.
Right now graphene can cost up to $200,000 per ton, but the flash graphene process is cheap and simple.
It can be done with just about any source material, not just food waste.
And the great thing environmentally about this is most of the trash that we generate as humans is made out of carbon, so we eat Carbon and all our plastic bottles, and plastic is made out of carbon and we can take that plastic waste and turn it into graphene, very inexpensively for about $100 in electricity per tonne.>> Now back to that cinder block, the team says by adding less than 1% of flash graphene to concrete.
Could strengthen the concrete by 35%.
That means less concrete is needed during construction, cutting the carbon footprint.
According to rice cement production is to blame for as much as 8% of human made carbon dioxide and the environmental benefits don't stop there.
Flash graphene creates a cleaner use for coal rather than burning it.
And it creates a use for stuff that would otherwise just go sit in a landfill.
And you might be wondering about that excess gas that's leftover.
Well [UNKNOWN] even says that valuable elements like oxygen and nitrogen could be collected and used for other things.
And because the process is so quick It doesn't produce a ton of heat.
In fact you can touch that container with your finger just a few seconds after the flash.
And Tora isn't the only one to see the massive potential here.
He's got a grant from the Department of Energy to scale up the process along with a start up called Universal Matter.
Our hope is that we can build lots of systems and put them all around the world and deal with waste, human waste Food waste.
That's it for this week.
I'm Andy [UNKNOWN].
I'll see you in the future.
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