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back to article Boffins make graphene micro-distillery

Graphene-creating boffins have discovered a new purpose for the wonder material - a teeny-tiny distillery. A team led by one of the Nobel prize-winning scientists who first made the world's thinnest and strongest material have now found out that graphene can stop air and other gases, but it lets water right through. Naturally, …

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Headmaster

Andre Geim [...] won the Noble prize for physics for the work.

That truly sounds like a prize fit for a king. Does it have the same kudos as the Nobel prize, though?

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Well certainly

There sorted for the after-awards party.

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Mushroom

Water purification

Firstly, baffled as to how it would let water through but not helium through, given the size difference at play (only thought coming to mind is dipole nature of water?), but if this membrane does just let water through, and not anything else commonly found in drinking water, water purificaion options are surely about to get a boost?

That said distillery option is also pretty intriguing - I believe home distilleries were made illegal for their potential to go 'boom' - a flame/heat/pressure chamber free solution should therefore become viable...??

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ilegal Stills

Home distilling was made illegal because of the lucrative tax levied on spirits. The reason given might have been health and safety but money was always the prime mover.

I was under the impression that helium always leaked because it was small and would always find any faults or interstitial cavities. If the graphene layer is a perfect lattice then there are no gaps as proven by its ability to block helium. Water molecules must therefore be 'passed' through the graphene by some sort of active process like a molecular level machine or catalyst.

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"how it would let water through but not helium "

It's not clear to me how the layers are orientated bu it looks as though the graphene sheets are stacked "vertically" |||||| so that the water has to move along between the sheets. If these have hydrophilic groups and have dimensions that just allows water to move through the spaces then other materials may well have problems as there will be a strong tendency for water to fill the spaces and repel any other molecules. In this situation the water will behave quite differently to bulk water - it'll be more like a sloppy ice where every water molecule that evaporates from the low humidity end will need to be replaced from the high end to maintain the energetics.

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Unhappy

Don't count on it. The government isn't likely to do that because they get a *lot* of tax revenues from the sale of spirits.

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Mushroom

Sewage treatment also comes to mind.

When they say 'water' does it mean pure H2O or what?

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A lot of applications depand on how fast it will pass water.

Eg, if it takes an hour to get a litre of water through a square meter of graphene, then its not going to be practical for domestic water/sewage purification.

Where as home spirit purification probably isn't going to matter if you want to wait a week for your Smirnoff Red to turn into Blue.

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Pint

Home brewing question

Is this what they mean by micro-brewed?

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1 l/hm^2

A liter-per-hour-per-square-meter of graphene-mat surface actually could work quite nicely for personal or household water filtering. In areas where clean water is hard to come by, if the graphene material can be produced cheaply enough, you could build a decent home water distillation system out of that.

According to a couple of references I just checked, it looks like an adult in hot, arid conditions performing a mix of moderate and heavy exertion needs around 2-3 liters of water per day. I have no idea if that's at all reliable, but if it is, then a system producing 1 liter per hour could handle the drinking-water requirements of 8 adults. Even when we allow for cooking water and a ration of cleaning water, that looks reasonable for a household.

Similarly, it'd probably work nicely for applications like camping, since you should be able to fold the mat for transportation.

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J P

Presumably it'd do a similar trick with wine and other foodstuffs - Heston Blumenthal's gonna have a ball!

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Pint

Love thissh kind of reshearsh. Love it. Bessht kind of shtuff. Really nishe. Really.

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fresh water

I wonder if it lets Na+ through?

there would be a huge market for potable water, for dry countries and for ships, hikers etc. At present they pump water through polythene, which takes a lot of effort and energy. sounds like it just pours through this wonder-stuff.

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Desalination?

Could this be used as an alternative to other more energy-intensive desalination methods? If so, it could solve water shortage problems in many places (and the ensuing conflicts) almost overnight.

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The phrase "over time"

does not, to me, indicate that it pours or even drips. But letting only pure H2O through sounds like a good thing. Just remember that for drinking you then need to add a few minerals, but those are easy to carry with you in powder or tablet form.

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Nice to see so many people thinking about how this can be used to benefit humanity, not just high boffinry. The trick will be to get the cost of manufacturing it low enough.

Drinking pure water generally isn't a problem; you can get enough of trace minerals through food, unless you're on an unusually restricted diet.

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Drinking pure water generally isn't a problem

Not 100% sure about that. High purity deionized water even feels strange as it strips the salts and fats out of your skin. Never tried drinking any though.

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D2O

I wonder if it also selectively allows H2O to pass, leaving the other side enriched in D2O? Put enough of them together and you could have a nice little heavy water plant.

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selectively allows H2O to pass

I guess it well might. Even chemistry is different with deuterium. The rates of reactions are generally slower and drugs with a hydrogen replaced by deuterium at a point of metabolism are usually metabolised significantly more slowly.

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Boffin

They should get some up to the ISS, might mike the piss recycler work a bit better

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desalting water

I'm guessing it could desalt water. However, we already have pretty decent (and much cheaper) filters to do that. The problem is pushing the water with enough pressure to get usable volumes on the other side (and using a filter able to withstand the pressure; a test that graphene is likely to fail.)

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Meh

Pressure

"As well as being the thinnest and strongest material known....." Strength would not be a problem.

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Joke

Re:

Bear Grylls is on the ISS?

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Alert

"It's being hailed as the answer to almost all tech problems"

So, this year's carbon nanotubes then...

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Joke

Nuclear fusion, surely?

No, wait, that's been 20 years away since the 1950s...

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Graphene is the new carbon?

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Joke

It's being hailed as the answer to almost all tech problems

What!! Can it debug my junior Java programmer's code, he's struggling a bit

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Anonymous Coward

Well There's Your Problem!

He's writing Java!

Try switching to C#, C, C++, hell I would even prefer VB!

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Flying cars?

Surely.

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JDX
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What's so special about water that only it comes through?

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Boffin

Waters weird

as I vaguely recall from 30 years ago. You'd *think* it would be ionically bonded, but IIRC it's actually weakly covalent, which is why it has some odd properties which are essential to life (why do you think the first indication of life astrobiologists use is liquid water). Also remember the "anomalous expansion of water "as it cools through 4C ?

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The BBC article explains things slightly more. Apparently water gets through because the gap betweeen layers exactly fits a single water molecule, whereas everything else is the wrong size.

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Boffin

@JimmyPage

That's not even the start of it. Water has a whole load of anomalous properties, due to various things, such as hydrogen bonding, its dihedral angle, dipole and the unbonded lone-pairs of electrons on the oxygen atom.

A good list of these is here:

http://www.lsbu.ac.uk/water/anmlies.html

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But what about Helium?

Helium is atomic number 2, the second smallest element in existence besides Hydrogen at 1. It's atomic weight is a mere 4. And it's a noble gas, to boot, so it normally exists atomically. How can anything that allows water (which contains the much-larger oxygen atom--atomic number 8, weight 16) not allow helium. It can't be anything like a filter of sieve, since helium is smaller than water.

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Always too much water in the way.

Gaps in the membrane are exactly "one water wide". There's NEVER any room for anything else. As soon as there's room for a fresh water molecule at a gap, it displaces anthing which might physically occupy the space. He (and everything else) gets left behind.

It's probably quantum too.

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I was disapointed

I thought they had a new way to distil graphene from unwanted vodka. Though I can appreciate that the actual discovery may be better.

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Pint

I was confused.

What is this "unwanted vodka" substance? I have come up with several plans to help dispose of it in just the time it took to write this sentence.

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Water not ethanol

So it only let the water through and not the ethanol, that is interesting (sorry never come across any He in my vodka, so for the sake if this article that is just not relevant). .

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It's the He that make you light-headed

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H to He who am the only one

Sorry...

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helium

Given the shortage of helium this could prove quite useful if they can make it into containers

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Joke

I don't believe it!

I need at least 95% proof!

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Boffin

You aim too low

When it comes to advanced scientific brewing techniques, one should be aiming for at least 300% proof. 307 Ale, my boys, 307 Ale...

http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/3530822107858848784/

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Pint

Er, that's 300º proof, not 300% proof........

%age measurements of alcoholic beverages are the %age by volume of alcohol in them. Thus 300% a) isn't possible and b) would kill you if it were.

Degrees of proof orginally measured the effect when gunpowder is soaked in whatever it is. If the gunpowder just still burns, you have 100 degrees of proof (which is a shade under 60% by volume alcohol). 300 degrees would remove your eybrows when you lit the gunpowder (and is also impossible, being about 175% abv alcohol if my maths is correct).

Stereotypically, Yank "proof" differs from British "degrees of proof".

Beer is measured by Original Gravity and you should be aiming for about 1100 for something really lethal and yet still drinkable.

It's Friday and you presented the opportunity to look again at booze strength measures, what did you expect?

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Pint

Degrees, not percentage of proof

I am aware of this, thanks. However, I was coming to the end of my lunch break and didn't have time to find the proper symbol.

Also, please do follow my link. You sound like you might appreciate it.

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Anonymous Coward

There is no such thing as %proof...

there is either percentage by volume, or degrees proof (and old measure invovling gunpowder).

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Pint

Why not

Why can't you have alcohol that's equivalent to 300º proof? with the right additives petrol can made to a 120 octane rating.

More boffinery required to investigate this

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Boffin

Balloons

Can they line the envelope of helium balloons with this stuff? That would give you much longer lifetimes. You could put things like relay stations up in the stratosphere.

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I was thinking the same thing

Except mine was more along the lines of "party balloons that never ever go down!!! yay!!"

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Not only party balloons.

El Reg's Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) project may have just got a lot easier.

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