Flawed Graphene gives proton-selective membrane that enhance fuel cells

The word “graphene” is usually related to a pristine honeycomb structure. However, a recent study is suggesting that a faulty graphene structure might have some benefits of its own. According to a group of scientists at the Northwestern University and collaborators representing five other top institutions, natural presence of a few tiny holes in the graphene, can help in improving fuel cells.

One of the biggest challenges one faces when dealing with fuel cell technology is separating hydrogen from protons without any hitch. During a recent study involving water and single-layer graphene, scientists at the Northwestern University have discovered that a faulty graphene tends to shuffle only the protons from one side of its member to another within just a few seconds.


In other words, the study proved that graphene membrane’s selectivity and speed are significantly better than those of conventional membranes. This finding provided engineers with a fresh and, of course, much simpler idea for designing fuel cells.

The said study took place under the leadership of chemist Franz Geiger. According to Geiger, this technology will ensure that electric cars can be charged in the same time regular cars take for gas refilling.

During the study, scientists came to know that a flawed single-layer graphene is capable of producing the thinnest proton channel in the world. The proton channel it creates has a thickness of just one atom. Geiger said that he and his colleagues found that making the graphene a little less perfect will give birth to a perfect membrane for fuel cells. Thus, the study concluded that for getting protons through, instead of making pristine graphenes one should look to make slightly defective ones.


The study was published in the March 17 edition of famous science journal Nature Communications. The research team under Geiger consisted of collaborators from his own university and from a number of other institutions including big names like the University of Puerto Rico, Pennsylvania State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and so on.