Study: Graphene can filter hydrogen isotopes in heavy-water production

Graphene molecule model
Graphene molecule model | Courtesy of the University of Mancherster

The University of Manchester in England unveiled the results of a study this week that indicates graphene can act as an effective mesh to filter out unneeded hydrogen isotopes when producing heavy water for reactors.

Professor and Royal Society Research Professor Andre Geim led the research team that discovered a graphene mesh can separate hydrogen protons and nuclei from other isotopes of hydrogen.

One of these isotopes, deuterium, is often utilized in chemical tracing and in nuclear power stations through heavy water. Researchers said the discovery can lead to heavy-water processes that require less energy. It would also aid efforts to eliminate tritium byproducts in the energy-generation process.

“We were stunned to see that a membrane can be used to separate subatomic particles,” Professor Irina Grigorieva, co-author of the study, said. “It is a really simple set-up. We hope to see applications of these filters not only in analytical and chemical tracing technologies, but also in helping to clean nuclear waste from radioactive tritium.”

This study was released in the journal Science, and researchers said this method could be scaled to meet commercial demands.

“This is really the first membrane shown to distinguish between subatomic particles, all at room temperature,” Manchester postdoctoral scholar and co-author Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo said. “Now that we showed that it is a fully scalable technology, we hope it will quickly find its way to real applications.”

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