Success in penetrating thin carbon sheets offers promise for better fuel cells
The world’s thinnest material has a soft spot for protons.
Despite its impermeability to all atoms and molecules, the slim carbon film known as graphene allows protons to pass through it, new experiments reveal. The finding suggests that graphene and similar ultrathin materials can improve hydrogen fuel cells, which require a barrier that allows only protons to penetrate.
“It’s great work and a very important result,” says Vikas Berry, a chemical engineer at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Discovered in 2004 by physicists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester in England, graphene consists of a single layer of carbon atoms in a honeycomb pattern. Physicists quickly learned that such ultrathin materials behave very differently than their thicker cousins with the same chemical makeup. For example, graphene conducts electricity far better than its pure-carbon relative diamond.