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article imageGraphene helps to make nuclear industry ‘greener’

By Tim Sandle     May 10, 2017 in Environment
Manchester - Graphene has a vast range of applications. One area of development is with the production of nuclear power and here graphene can help lessen the environmental impact. This is through decontaminating heavy water.
Heavy water primarily used in nuclear reactors. Heavy water is a form of water that contains a larger than normal amount of the hydrogen isotope deuterium (which is different from the common hydrogen isotope found in normal water. The presence of deuterium in water gives the chemical different nuclear properties. Heavy water is toxic to humans and animals and it therefore requires careful processing.
A new study from the University of Manchester suggests that graphene could help reduce the energy cost of producing heavy water and the subsequent decontamination in nuclear power plants by over one hundred times. Graphene is a one atom thick form of carbon, and it has many special properties, including being strong, lightweight, transparent and conductive. Innovations with graphene have been widely covered on Digital Journal in recent years.
The new application of graphene should lead to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. The generation of the greenhouse gas is a product of heavy water production. Globally the levels of gas produced could be upwards to a million tons per year.
A study group led by Dr. Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo has successfully demonstrated how graphene membranes can be used to produce heavy water with a far lower environmental impact compared with conventional technology.
This arises from graphene’s ability to separate out sub-atomic particles in an efficient manner. In addition, the process is likely to be more cost effective than current production methods. Current generating one kilogram of heavy water consumes enough energy to power an average American household for over a year. Graphene functions like a sieve, able to filter-out sieve hydrogen isotopes. By using graphene the separation process allows for a significant reduction of the input amount of raw isotope mixtures that needs to be processed.
In a research note, Dr. Lozada-Hidalgo, from the University of Manchester, states: “This is a crucial milestone in the path to taking this revolutionary technology to industrial application. The potential gains are high enough to justify its introduction even in the highly conservative nuclear industry.”
The research is published in the journal Nature Communications, in the paper “Scalable and efficient separation of hydrogen isotopes using graphene-based electrochemical pumping.”
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