Academics from the Universities of Oxford and Cardiff are working alongside CarbonMeta Technologies to turn plastic waste into clean hydrogen fuel and high-value carbon nanomaterials.
Using ‘microwave catalysis’ technology – custom-designed microwave machines – from the University of Oxford, CarbonMeta hopes to yield ‘high value products for industry’ – graphite (600 GBP per tonne), hydrogen (3,500 GBP per tonne), graphene (100,000 GBP per tonne), and carbon nanotubes (100,000 GBP per tonne).
A team of scientists has developed biodegradable food packaging made from corn protein and other naturally-derived bioplymers infused with a mixture of natural antimicrobial oils that can extend the shelf life of fresh fruit by up to three days compared to traditional plastic containers, creating a solution to cut down on the amount of plastic packaging throughout the food industry.
The efficient use of biowaste to decrease environmental pollution is vital for the long-term sustainability of the planet. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering used waste grapefruit peels to synthesize multipurpose nickel nanoparticles ingrained in nitrogen graphene-like carbon nanomaterials (Nix @ NGC) with excellent electromagnetic characteristics.
Because SARS CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, can survive on the outer surface of a face mask for days, people who touch the mask and then rub their eyes, nose, or mouth may risk getting COVID-19. So these manufacturers seem to be reasoning that graphene coatings on their reusable and disposable face masks will add some anti-virus protection. But in March, the Quebec provincial government removed these masks from schools and daycare centers after Health Canada, Canada’s national public health agency, warned that inhaling the graphene could lead to asbestos-like lung damage.
Is this move warranted by the facts, or an over-reaction? To answer that question, it can help to know more about what graphene is, how it kills microbes, including the SARS-COV-2 virus, and what scientists know so far about the potential health impacts of breathing in graphene.
How does graphene damage viruses, bacteria and human cells?
Researchers have been studying the potential negative impacts of inhaling microscopic graphene on mammals. In one 2016 experiment, mice with graphene placed in their lungs experienced localized lung tissue damage, inflammation, formation of granulomas (where the body tries to wall off the graphene), and persistent lung injury, similar to what occurs when humans inhale asbestos. A different study from 2013 found that when human cells were bound to graphene, the cells were damaged.
In order to mimic human lungs, scientists have developed biological models designed to simulate the impact of high concentration aerosolized graphene – graphene in the form of a fine spray or suspension in air – on industrial workers. One such study published in March 2020 found that a lifetime of industrial exposure to graphene induced inflammation and weakened the simulated lungs’ protective barrier.
It’s important to note that these models are not perfect options for studying the dramatically lower levels of graphene inhaled from a face mask, but researchers have used them in the past to learn more about these sorts of exposures. A study from 2016 found that a small portion of aerosolized graphene nanoparticles could move down a simulated mouth and nose passages and penetrate into the lungs. A 2018 study found that brief exposure to a lower amount of aerosolized graphene did not notably damage lung cells in a model.
From my perspective as a researcher, this trio of findings suggest that a little bit of graphene in the lungs is likely OK, but a lot is dangerous.
Although it might seem obvious to compare inhaling graphene to the well-known harms of breathing in asbestos, the two substances behave differently in one key way. The body’s natural system for disposing of foreign particles cannot remove asbestos, which is why long-term exposure to asbestos can lead to the cancer mesothelioma. But in studies using mouse models to measure the impact of high dose lung exposure to graphene, the body’s natural disposal system does remove the graphene, although it occurs very slowly over 30 to 90 days.
The findings of these studies shed light on the possible health impacts of breathing in microscopic graphene in either small or large doses. However, these models don’t reflect the full complexity of human experiences. So the strength of the evidence about either the benefit of wearing a graphene mask, or the harm of inhaling microscopic graphene as a result of wearing it, is very weak.
No obvious benefit but theoretical risk
Graphene is an intriguing scientific advance that may speed up the demise of COVID-19 virus particles on a face mask. In exchange for this unknown level of added protection, there is a theoretical risk that breathing through a graphene-coated mask will liberate graphene particles that make it through the other filter layers on the mask and penetrate into the lung. If inhaled, the body may not remove these particles rapidly enough to prevent lung damage.
The health department in Quebec is erring on the side of caution. Children are at very low risk of COVID-19 mortality or hospitalization, although they may infect others, so the theoretical risk from graphene exposure is too great. However, adults at high immediate risk of harm from contracting COVID-19 may choose to accept a small theoretical risk of long-term lung damage from graphene in exchange for these potential benefits.
As NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover continues to explore the surface of Mars, scientists on Earth have developed a new nanoscale metal carbide that could act as a “superlubricant” to reduce wear and tear on future rovers.
Researchers in Missouri S&T’s chemistry department and Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Nanoscale Materials, working with a class of two-dimensional nanomaterials known as MXenes, have discovered that the materials work well to reduce friction. The materials also should perform better than conventional oil-based lubricants in extreme environments, says Dr. Vadym Mochalin, associate professor of chemistry at Missouri S&T, who is leading the research.
Environmental protection is one of the critical challenges faced by the human race. Over the years, we have unintentionally devastated our surroundings by creating and discarding plastics, contributed to climate change by mining and burning fossil fuels, and polluted our air and waterways with human-made creations.
But now it is time to repair the environment and our relationship with it, with nanotechnology set to play a vital role in securing the future sustainability of our planet.
Abstract: Airborne aerosol pollutants generated from combustion vehicles exhausts, industrial facilities and microorganisms represent serious health challenges. Although membrane separation has emerged as a technique of choice for airborne contaminants removal, allowing for both size exclusion and surface adsorption. Here, electrospun carbon nanofibre mats were formed from poly(acrylonitrile) by systematic stabilization and carbonization processes to generate flexible and self-standing membranes for air filtration. The great mechanical flexibility of the electrospun carbon-nanofibre membranes was achieved through extreme quenching conditions on a carbon fibre processing line, allowing for complete carbonization in just 3 min. The carbonized nanofibre membranes, with fibre diameters in the range of 218 to 565 nm exhibited modulus of elasticity around 277.5 MPa. The samples exhibited air filtration efficiencies in the range of 97.2 to 99.4% for aerosol particle in the size of 300 nm based on face velocity, higher than benchmark commercial glass fibre (GF) air filters. The carbonized electrospun nanofibre membranes also yielded excellent thermal stability withstanding temperatures up to 450 °C, thus supporting the development of autoclavable and recyclable membranes. This significant and scalable strategy provides opportunities to mass-produce reusable air filters suitable for otherwise complex airborne pollutants, including volatile organic carbons and bio-contaminants, such as viruses.
Researchers have used a natural plant product, called cellulose nanocrystals, to pin and coat carbon nanotubes uniformly onto the carbon-fiber composites. The researchers said their prescribed method is quicker than conventional methods and also allows the designing of carbon-fiber composites from the nanoscale.
University of Minnesota Twin Cities researchers announced today that they are part of a team of researchers from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology who have received a five-year, $20 million grant from the NSF Division of Chemistry.
The grant will allow continued research on evaluating the molecular-level impact of nanotechnology on the environment and living things. The center was initially funded in 2012.