'Defective' graphene makes for super-efficient fuel cells

Though graphene is noted for its beautiful symmetry, when you add a few warts and imperfections, it becomes more interesting -- specifically, it has the potential to make fuel cells better and cheaper. Scientists from Northwestern University and other institutions were toying with the material as a hydrogen fuel cell membrane, and found that by knocking out at least four carbon atoms from the normally pristine structure, it performed vastly better. A large number of protons (and nothing else) slipped through imperfections in the atom-thick material in just a few seconds, efficiently generating electricity.

The "defective" graphene membrane transports protons much faster and more selectively than standard fuel cell membranes, which tend to let too many impurities through. That could lead to less complicated, hyper-efficient fuel cell batteries for EVs and wind or solar power plants. The tech could also bring improvements to regular batteries, according to the researchers. Despite being the poster-child for promising materials that nobody uses, Graphene might finally get its day by powering your future fossil-free car.

[Image credit: Murali Raju, Penn State]