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Graphene Wages Rust-Busting Revolution

Friday, September 12, 2014

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While no one is declaring victory in the war on corrosion, new coatings formulated with graphene could help stave off rust and resist chemicals on everything from metal structures to food packaging, according to research out of the UK.

And a new $100 million Graphene Engineering Innovation Center could provide the research horsepower to bring the coatings to market.

Graphene oxide solutions can be treated with chemicals to create coatings that have chemical and thermal stability like graphite but mechanically act as tough as graphene, "the strongest material known to man," the University of Manchester research team led by Dr. Rahul Nair and Nobel laureate Sir Andre Geim announced Thursday (Sept. 11).

The university bills itself as "the Home of Graphene."

"Graphene paint has a good chance to become a truly revolutionary product for industries that deal with any kind of protection either from air, weather elements or corrosive chemicals," said Nair.

Rahul Nair University of Manchester
Images: University of Manchester

"Graphene paint has a good chance to become a truly revolutionary product for industries that deal with any kind of protection either from air, weather elements or corrosive chemicals," said Dr. Rahul Nair.

"Those include, for example, medical, electronics and nuclear industry or even shipbuilding, to name but the few."

The research by Nair and Geim, "Impermeable barrier films and protective coatings based on reduced graphene oxide," was published Thursday (Sept. 11) in Nature Communications.

Closing Capillaries

During a previous study, the team found that multilayer films made of graphene oxide were vacuum tight under dry conditions, but water or vapor exposure causes them to act as sieves that allow small molecules to pass through—a discovery with huge implications for water purification, the researchers said.

The change occurs because millions of small flakes are randomly stacked on top of each other with nano-sized capillaries between them.

"Water molecules like to be inside these nanocapillaries and can drag small atoms and molecules along," the researchers explained.

Chemical treatments can tightly close these nanocapillaries to make graphene films even stronger and highly impermeable to gases, liquids and strong chemicals, the team said.

Demonstrating Durability

For example, the researchers demonstrated that glassware or copper plates coated with graphene paint could store strongly corrosive acids.

graphene coatings

Nair's previous research demonstrated how water could easily evaporate through graphene oxide membranes, although they are an impermeable barrier for other molecules.

Dr. Yang Su, the first author on the research, stated, "Graphene paint can be applied to practically any material, independently of whether it's plastic, metal or even sand.

"For example, plastic films coated with graphene could be of interest for medical packaging to improve shelf life because they are less permeable to air and water vapor than conventional coatings. In addition, thin layers of graphene paint are optically transparent."

Investing in Graphene

Graphene is a major focus of the University of Manchester, where the National Graphene Institute hosts more than 200 scientists and engineers working on graphene and 2-D materials research.

Now, the university will add a $100 million Graphene Engineering Innovation Center to assist in the development of commercial applications for the research underway.


The labs of the University of Manchester's National Graphene Institute will be joined by a new $100 million Graphene Engineering Innovation Center, the school has announced.

One-quarter of the center's project funding will come from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s UK Research Partnership Investment Fund. About half will come from Masdar, an Abu Dhabi-based renewable energy company that sponsors the Masdar Institute, a University of Manchester research partner.

Additional funding will be provided by the UK's Technology Strategy Board and other institutions.

The center will focus on pilot production and application development of coatings, composites, membranes and other materials.

Said Professor Colin Bailey, dean of the faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences: “Research and development in graphene and 2-D material applications will transform the world."


Tagged categories: Coating Materials; Colleges and Universities; Corrosion protection; Europe; Graphene; Permeability; Research

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