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As the world looks to a more sustainable and advanced way of life, both measures need to be balanced. The era of automation and smart electronics helps develop intelligent technologies that can be rolled out across whole cities and improve our quality of life. Similarly, modern-day society's advanced age has highlighted the need for more sustainability. Different solutions are required for these areas in many cases, but graphene has emerged as a contender that can help our cities become more sustainable and smarter.
Graphene has remarkable electronic properties for use in smart devices and advanced electronics. Similarly, graphene's small size and structural properties mean that it can be integrated into several materials, making them more robust and lightweight (as less material is typically used when graphene has been added).
The amount of graphene added to some of these areas is often so small that the cost of using graphene becomes almost negligible, so there is the potential for graphene to be used on a wide scale and improve the cities that we live in from multiple angles.
Graphene used in Cement and Concrete
Concrete and cement have very high carbon emission levels because of how much they are used to construct buildings worldwide.
Cement is the glue that holds concrete together. It is responsible for around 8% of the world’s carbon emissions and is the largest CO2 contributor of any single material.
Cement and concrete have been used in the construction of buildings for many years. As the population worldwide grows and the need for more housing grows with it, concrete and cement demand will likely increase.
If we cannot remove it or replace it, then the next best thing is to improve it. This is where graphene can come in. There has been a lot of interest, research, and commercial development surrounding graphene use in cement and concrete, with significant effects. The addition of a small amount of graphene (around 0.03% weight) is enough to reduce these materials' carbon footprint by 25-33%.
These effects are possible because the small amount of graphene reduces the amount of cement needed in concrete, decreasing the overall amount of material being produced and used. Graphene properties make the concrete just as strong with less material, so less is needed to achieve the same effects. By merely adding such a small amount of graphene powder to cement and concrete, it is thought that carbon emissions can be reduced by 2%, i.e., a one-quarter reduction on today’s emissions.
Smart Cities and Graphene
Graphene, and a collective range of similar 2D materials coined ‘the graphenes’, has the potential to be used within the infrastructure that underpins smart cities.
As smart cities become a reality, we will see more use of advanced sensing networks, data-driven approaches, and advanced artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms in everything from facial recognition to everyday buildings' automation (and the various facilities inside of buildings).
Graphene can be used in the various infrastructural aspects seen in smart cities. It could act as a conductive medium and printable circuitry, while it could be used in highly sensitive and advanced sensors. This would mean more accurate data in the automation algorithms.
Other key examples where graphene could be used in the infrastructure is in antennae powered by Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. RFID tags could be used in everything from drones to retinal scans and in different solar cells that power the smart city's infrastructure sustainably. Graphene helps make solar cells more flexible and printable, so they could soon be integrated on to the side of buildings within a city without becoming an obstruction.
Advanced Road Systems
The use of graphene in roads has been of interest for several years. Just like graphene can be added to cement and concrete, it can also be added to the asphalt used on our roads. Directa Plus and Iterchemica in Italy trialed this on a one mile stretch of road just outside of Rome.
The graphene-enhanced asphalt was much more wear-resistant, reducing tire strain, pothole formation, and the need for resurfacing.
The addition of a small amount of graphene meant that less asphalt was required to make these wear-resistant roads, making their carbon footprint lower.
Since then, and after the positive results of this ‘test’ road, graphene use in roads has begun to gather interest in different places. For example, the University of Manchester and Highways England have been looking at several different ways to integrate graphene into roads across the UK.
Graphene enhances road sustainability and could help to make them smarter. Image Credit: Georgii Shipin/Shutterstock.com
But could it go beyond just improving the wear quality and environmental impact of our roads? While graphene has shown that it can enhance our roads' sustainability, it could also help to make them smarter.
As advanced and higher density energy storage devices such as batteries, supercapacitors, and those that use graphene become more commercially feasible and widespread, it could be become entirely possible to charge your electric car while it is parked or at a traffic light if graphene (and other advanced technologies) are integrated into the road infrastructure.
Whether it is on the road or in buildings, graphene and its various derivatives have many potentials to make our future cities smarter and more sustainable as our societies develop further.
References and Further Reading
Graphene Flagship (2020) Graphene on the road to smart cities. [Online]. Available at: https://graphene-flagship.eu/news/Pages/Graphene-on-the-road-to-smart-cities.aspx
Baker, J. (2020) Graphene: the building block for sustainable cities. [Online] University of Manchester. Available at: https://www.mub.eps.manchester.ac.uk/graphene/2020/12/graphene-the-building-block-for-sustainable-cities/