Spanish researchers have developed a new method to create a graphene membrane with pores whose size, shape and density can be modified with atomic precision. The result is a nanoporous graphene with electrical properties and acting as a molecular sieve, two advantages that can be applied in the manufacture of advanced filters and sensors.
This work opens the potential of this precious material to applications in electronics, filters, and sensors, according to the science team, which has already requested a patent on the porous graphene membrane. The results were published this week in the journal Science.
The nanoporous graphene membrane is enhancing the basic properties of graphene
The presence of pores in the graphene can modify its basic properties, beginning by making it permeable and useful as a sieve. It is a change of structure that, combined with the intrinsic properties of this material, which is stronger than diamond, makes it an excellent candidate to develop more durable, selective and energy efficient filters for extremely small substances, as greenhouse gases, salts, or biomolecules.
A second important change, perhaps less intuitive, occurs when the spacing between the pores is also reduced to a few atoms. In this case, the graphene goes from being a semimetal to a semiconductor, which opens the door to its use in electronic devices, where it would replace the more voluminous and rigid silicon-based components used today.
The scientists were able to build the graphene mesh with the nanopores already integrated from the beginning, thus reducing the costs considerably. For this strategy to work, it requires a very specific precursor molecule, designed to respond to certain stimuli, which will be used to assemble a large puzzle.
Vast biomedical applications for the nanoporous graphene membrane
The newly created porous graphene material would obtain qualitative and quantitative information about which molecules pass at each moment, something that could be applied for example in more efficient DNA sequencers.
The applications of a nanoporous graphene membrane are numerous and varied, ranging from measuring and combating the presence of contaminating elements to the desalination of water, to biomedical applications in which such a thin, flexible and biocompatible membrane could be used to recover the function of organs such as the kidney, a natural filter par excellence.