MIT researchers have developed a technique for producing long strips of graphene, which appears to be a first step towards industrial production of this revolutionary material. It could have several applications, including desalination of water and biological separation, among others.
As indicated in a statement from MIT on the 17th April 2018, this new technique is a “scalable manufacturing process [that] spools out strips of graphene for use in ultrathin membranes”. These very high quality thin strips are intended for use in filtering molecules such as larger ions, proteins or salts.
We already use a similar material for this application – sort of film with microscopic nanopores. This film is intended to allow water to pass through it while blocking out pollutants. This technique is a way of filtering water for minimal cost, and was in fact used a few weeks ago by Australian CSIRO scientists, in order to make water from Sydney Port Harbour drinkable.
“For several years, researchers have thought of graphene as a potential route to ultrathin membranes… We believe this is the first study that has tailored the manufacturing of graphene toward membrane applications, which require the graphene to be seamless, cover the substrate fully, and be of high quality”, explains John Hart, director of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity at MIT.
The fact is that for the moment, graphene is produced in the laboratory and in small quantities. Thus, the large scale manufacturing option proposed by the MIT researchers is of particular interest in terms of industrial production. For now, their machine is designed to manufacture 5 centimeters of grahene per minute, and in just four hours, the researchers produced a 10 meter long strip! Naturally, the researchers envisage that their machine would run 24 hours a day in a factory setting.