One of the greatest difficulties that humanity has ever faced is the transition to a net zero world. It necessitates a radical revolution in how we produce, consume, and travel. This article attempts to shed light on how graphene could help us attain net zero goals, as well as the global practical efforts that are being made in that direction.
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What Are Net Zero Goals?
To avoid the worst effects of climate change and maintain a livable planet, global temperature rise must be limited to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. The Earth’s temperature has already increased by 1.1 °C since the late 1800s. To limit global warming to 1.5 °C and prevent its associated effects on climate change and the environment, a large number of firms have pledged to cut CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030. They have also pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. However, the challenge now is – how can we truly get to this net zero target?
One thing is for certain: if we truly want to achieve net zero in our economy and environment, legacy material will not bring us there. New advanced materials are required that can significantly increase performance qualities over legacy materials and allow for the transition to new forms of energy, transportation, and building.
Graphene is a 2D material made up of a single sheet of carbon atoms that has outstanding physical, mechanical, thermal, and electrical capabilities. It also has high strength when utilized in composite materials and is a potential contender to help us get closer to our net zero goal because of its quality, demonstrated applicability, and production capacity.
Construction Industry: Sustainable Concrete and Road
The construction industry, which includes concrete, buildings, roads, and other building materials, is a major contributor to carbon emissions, accounting for 40% of global CO2 emissions. The Nationwide Engineering Group and the University of Manchester’s Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) have created Concretene, a graphene-enhanced additive that uses graphene technology to deliver better performance over ordinary concrete while decreasing both CO2 and cost.
Concretene has an effect on the hydration process and improves microstructure development during curing, resulting in greater durability, fewer fractures, and stronger cement.
According to their report, adding just 0.01% of the approximate volume of Concretene additive leads to a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions. The team also claimed a 46% increase in early shear tensile capability, a complete 100% removal of steel reinforcement and a 20% reduction in overall cost. So, when we look at the broader sustainability agenda, it is not simply concrete reduction but also carbon footprint reduction, cost reduction, and overall time and money reduction.
Aside from concrete, another approach to reduce carbon footprints is to use asphalt for roadways and make them last longer so they do not need to be fixed as frequently. In collaboration with Highways England and the GEIC, pioneering work is looking to develop more robust road surfaces.
The collaborators announced a successful pilot of GiPave-a graphene-enhanced asphalt (developed by Directa Plus) at Curbridge and Oxford Lane, with a surface lifetime of up to 25 years (2.5 times longer than traditional asphalt material) and a 35% overall cost reduction. These super-durable roads may be the best option for achieving net-zero carbon emissions in the next 25 years.
Recyclability: Achieving Net Zero Without Sacrificing Performance
Dr. Vivek Koncherry, CEO of Graphene@Manchester, reported on another instance of how graphene-based sustainability could assist achieve net-zero emissions. In conjunction with the GEIC, he created the SpaceMat-a flooring product by combining 20% graphene-enhanced natural rubber with 80% waste tires, demonstrating that graphene can provide a recycled product with performance comparable to brand-new rubber.
Plastics have a substantial carbon footprint and contribute 3.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions during their existence. As a result, recycling plastic plays an essential role in lowering CO2 emissions.
According to a study conducted by NanoXplore, the addition of just 1% graphene to post-industrial recycled plastic can successfully improve its ultimate tensile strength by 7%, bending strength by 12%, elastic modulus by 15%, and thermal degradation resistance (T10%) by 45 °C. As a result of the use of graphene, up to half of prime plastic can be replaced with recycled plastic without reducing performance, resulting in lower energy usage and a more sustainable economy.
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Energy Sector: Net Zero Economy
The energy sector currently accounts for around three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions and has the key to mitigating the worst effects of climate change. Hydrogen fuel is viewed as a possible possibility for a clean, ecologically acceptable alternative energy source to conventional fossil fuels in attaining the net zero targets.
In a recent study, researchers from the National Graphene Institute utilized graphene as an electrode to measure the electrical force required to drive water molecules apart. The graphene electrode only allows hydrogen to pass through it. As a result, this understanding of interfacial water could aid in the design of improved catalysts for producing green hydrogen fuel from water and reaching zero carbon emissions.
Another example is the Graphene Manufacturing group, who demonstrated the addition of graphene coating to current air conditioning units to improve heat transfer qualities, making them considerably more efficient and consuming less energy, resulting in lower CO2 emissions.
Graphene and Net Zero: Future perspectives
The term sustainability can spark connotations of high costs and poor performance. However, by incorporating a very small percentage of graphene, the performance of existing technology could be improved at a reduced cost while also providing societal advantages in terms of net zero. Sustainability does not always require compromises. Graphene is in an exciting stage right now, and looking at the ongoing commercial instances of graphene in the building, road, recycling, and energy industries, graphene technology is proving to be a critical component in achieving a net zero aim in less than a decade.
References and Further Reading
Diallo, Abdou Khadri, et al. (2022) Graphene: A multifunctional additive for sustainability. Sustainable Materials and Technologies. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.susmat.2022.e00487
Cai, Junhao, et al. (2022) Wien effect in interfacial water dissociation through proton-permeable graphene electrodes. Nature communications. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-33451-1
The University of Manchester (2020) Graphene@Manchester teams up with Highways England [online] https://www.manchester.ac.uk/
Available at: https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/graphenemanchester-teams-up-with-highways-england/
The University of Manchester (2019) Entrepreneur has sustainability challenge covered – with a SpaceMat. [online] https://www.manchester.ac.uk/ Available at https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/entrepreneurial-has-sustainability-challenge-covered--with-a-spacemat/
Graphene Manufacturing Group (2022) A HVAC-R energy savings coating system. [online] https://graphenemg.com/ Available at https://graphenemg.com/thermal-xr/