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Summary:

Graphene is nearly impermeable, so adding it to plastic could lead to lighter and more efficient natural gas tanks.

The 2013 Chevrolet Silverado that runs on gasoline and natural gas

Despite being just an atom thick, graphene is nearly impermeable and potentially capable of blocking everything from bullets to minuscule gas molecules. Companies are already pouncing on adapting this characteristic to applications like filtration and desalinization.

New research out of Rice University indicates that graphene’s impermeability also makes it a fit for cars that run on natural gas. Right now, natural gas is packed into heavy metal tanks that must be stored somewhere on a car. The researchers were able to combine plastic and graphene to create a plastic tank capable of holding natural gas. Lighter plastic tanks could make cars more efficient by lowering the amount of fuel they need.

To prevent gas from escaping, the researchers embedded graphene ribbons in plastic. This is a view of the embedded ribbons under an electron microscope. Photo courtesy of Tour Group/Rice University.

To prevent gas from escaping, the researchers embedded graphene ribbons in plastic. This is a view of the embedded ribbons under an electron microscope. Photo courtesy of Tour Group/Rice University.

“The idea is to increase the toughness of the tank and make it impermeable to gas,” Rice chemist James Tour said in a release. “This becomes increasingly important as automakers think about powering cars with natural gas. Metal tanks that can handle natural gas under pressure are often much heavier than the automakers would like.”

Because it is not yet affordable to manufacture sheets of graphene in bulk, the researchers turned to graphene nanoribbons. Nanoribbons are made by unzipping carbon nanotubes, which are composed of rolled up pieces of graphene. Carbon nanotube manufacturing is much more advanced than graphene manufacturing, as is graphene nanoribbon manufacturing.

The nanoribbons were then embedded in plastic. While this combination is more permeable than a solid sheet of graphene, it is still 1,000 times harder for gas to escape than if it was faced with a plain plastic wall.

The researchers say their creation also can be applied to soda and beer bottles. Adding graphene to plastic bottles would extend the shelf life of soda before it goes flat. And, plastic bottles laced with graphene could keep beer fresh. Plastic bottles aren’t used for beer now because oxygen can enter them, causing beer to go bad.

  1. Discovering graphene was similar to when we figured out how to turn iron into steel, it literally will make almost anything structurally better.

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  2. but, natural gas = fracking right ? that’s not good. that fracking stuff.

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    1. If the gas is there, it will be extracted.

      I’ve never really understood why the auto manufacturers limit the number of CNG cars they sell, and then also limit those to certain states. With in-home refilling there’s no infrastructure problems, and converting a car to CNG is easy, so there should be more CNG cars sold.

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      1. compressed natural gas is more dangerous than natural gas that is not compressed. States and local laws are wary of letting just anybody have a potential bomb on board. Safety checks, user fueling instructions, qualified repair sites and limited fueling locations are a few of the limitations. There is a push to get long haul truck fleets to go to compressed natural gas or even Liquified Natural Gas. If the big rig fleets overcome these limitations, then here might be a chance you will get your wish.

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  3. It also make hydrogen more viable as fuel – more fuel can be stored at higher pressures – just like natural gas, etc……

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  4. Hmm, something to look forward to. Certainly.

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  5. Right now, natural gas is packed into heavy metal tanks that must be stored somewhere on a car.
    http://www.americancng.com/

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