Is graphene biodegradable? (5 applications of graphene)

This article shall address the question of the biodegradability of graphene.

It shall also look into other areas such as:

  • Properties of graphene.
  • Applications of graphene.
  • Properties of carbon and its allotropes.
  • Eco-friendliness of graphene.

Is graphene biodegradable?

Yes, several types of research have shown that graphene can be broken down by various enzymes found in bacteria, fungi, and human lungs.

The biodegradation process occurs through various agents such as bacteria, fungi, UV radiation, light, water, and wind. Fungi and bacteria are the most efficient agents of biodegradation.

Let’s take a look at the process of biodegradation.

What is biodegradation?

Biodegradation is the process by which organic materials from plants and animals are broken down by such agents as light, temperature, water, radiation, bacteria, and fungi into small particles which are not toxic to the environment.

Water.

This causes biodegradation by carrying the materials and causing mechanical breakdown.

Sunlight.

Some light wavelengths cause the mechanical breakdown of organic materials into smaller particles.

Light contains different radiations at different wavelengths.

Radiations such as ultraviolet radiation oxidize organic materials which cause them to disintegrate into small particles which are then degraded by microorganisms.

Temperature.

Temperature causes the expansion and contraction of organic materials.

This causes the material to experience stress which in return results in mechanical breakdown.

Bacteria.

Bacteria break down organic material through the process of respiration to form small particles which they use to acquire energy.

The most common and active bacteria include:

  • Pseudomonas.
  • Bacillus.
  • Mycobacteria.

Fungi.

They break down organic matter into small particles which they then assimilate into their body systems.

They include:

  • Yeasts.
  • Mushrooms
  • Molds.
  • Mildew.
  • Lichens.

Steps of biodegradation.

Biodegradation occurs in three distinct steps:

  • Biodeterioration.
  • Bio-fragmentation.
  • Assimilation.

Biodeterioration.

This is the first stage of biodegradation.

Organic materials are mechanically broken down by light, water, and temperature into smaller particles that are easily acted upon by bacteria and fungi.

Bio-fragmentation.

This is the second stage of biodegradation.

Organic matter is broken down by bacteria and fungi, either aerobically or anaerobically.

Water, carbon dioxide, methane gas, energy, and small biomass are produced depending on the type of process.

Assimilation.

It’s the last stage of biodegradation.

Involves the uptake of biomass produced into the body system of the bacteria or fungi to be used in various biological processes.

Advantages of biodegradation.

Biodegradation has several advantages which include the following:

  • It cleans the environment of the wastes.
  • Applicable to a wide range of products.
  • It can be triggered through composting
  • It is cost-effective.
  • Results to soil enrichment with nutrients.
  • Used to produce bioenergy.
  • Biodegradation through fermentation has led to the manufacturing of drugs.
  • It leads to the production of organic acids and alcohol.

Disadvantages of biodegradation.

Biodegradation has several disadvantages which include:

  • It leads to wear and tear of organic-based materials such as clothes.
  • It takes a very long time to degrade waste.
  • When used to produce bioenergy, it requires a lot of biomass.
  • It is easily affected by contaminants such as oil and antibiotics.
  • It is only limited to organic matter

What are carbon and its allotropes?

 Carbon is a chemical element that is represented by the symbol C and has the atomic number 6. 

Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe by mass. It occurs in different forms and is one of the primary structures in all the organic matter, together with oxygen.

Carbon contains four valence electrons and can therefore react by forming covalent bonds with so many elements to form different compounds.

The properties of carbon can differ depending on the bonds and crystalline form in which it occurs.

Carbon can occur in different allotropic forms. Allotropy is the occurrence of the same substance in more than one physical form.

Carbon contains several allotropes but the most common ones are:

  • Graphite.
  • Graphene.
  • Amorphous carbon.
  • Diamond.
  • Fullerenes.

Graphite.

This is a crystalline form of carbon. It is made up of layers of graphene molecules. Graphite is a natural mineral and is the most stable form of carbon and standard conditions.

When graphite is exposed to high pressure and temperature, it converts to diamond.

Properties of graphite.

Graphite contains the following properties.

  • It can be found in different forms such as crystalline, amorphous, lump graphite, and pyrolytic graphite.
  • It is the most stable form of carbon.
  • Under high temperatures and pressure, it converts to diamond.
  • It is a weak conductor of heat and electricity.
  • It is made up of layers of graphene.
  • It is strongly anisotropic.
  • It has a greasy feel.

Applications of graphite.

Graphite is used in the following ways.

  • It is used as a refractory (heat resistant) due to its high thermal resistance.
  • It is used in batteries to make anode electrodes.
  • It is used in steelmaking industries to increase the carbon content of molten steel.
  • It is used in the brake linings for heavy vehicles.
  • Graphite has been used as a lubricant in very low or very high temperatures.
  • Graphite is used to make pencils.
  • It is used to make electric motor brushes.

Graphene.

A graphene is a form of carbon. It is the unit structure of graphite with several layers of graphene making up the graphite.

Properties of graphene.

Graphene contains the following properties.

  • It is a zero-gap conductor; its conduction and valence bands converge at the Dirac points.
  • Graphene has good electron mobility at room temperature.
  • It has a large thermal conductivity.
  • It is the strongest natural mineral that has ever been tested.
  • It is a transparent and flexible semiconductor.

Applications of graphene.

The following are the uses of graphene.

  • It can be used to make solar cells.
  • It can be used to make light-emitting diodes.
  • It can be used to make smartphone screens and windows.
  • It is used to make tennis racquets.
  • It can be used to make spiral inductors.

It is worthy to note that graphite is a molecule under research and most of its applications are still being studied, and therefore,.most of the applications mentioned above are only suggestions of possible graphene use.

Diamond.

This is a solid form of carbon. It is the hardest and most thermal active mineral. The arrangement of carbon atoms in diamond makes it less susceptible to impurities.

Properties of a diamond.

The following are the properties of diamonds.

  • It is the pure form of carbon.
  • Diamond is the hardest known mineral.
  • It has a very high thermal conductivity.
  • It has the highest sound velocity of any mineral.
  • It contains low adhesion and friction.
  • It has a very low thermal expansion coefficient.
  • It has a high optical dispersion.
  • It has poor electrical conductivity.
  • It is chemically inert, and therefore, does not react with most chemicals.
  • It has high biological compatibility.

Applications of diamonds.

The following are the applications of diamond minerals.

  • It is used in industries as an abrasive for cutting hard materials.
  • It is used in the form of gemstones for adornment.
  • It is used to make jewelry.
  • Diamond membranes are used to make windows.
  • Diamond is used to engrave hard surfaces such as granite and quartz.
  • Diamond is used in the making of high-quality speakers.
  • It is used in the beauty industry to make diamond-based products such as diamond flecked products.
  • It is used to make heat sinks.

Fullerenes.

A fullerene is an allotrope of carbon that forms rings when carbon atoms bond with 7 other atoms.

Fullerenes occur in different shapes such as hollow spheres, tubes, or ellipsoids.

Closed fullerenes are called buckyballs, nested closed ones are called bucky onions, cylindrical fullerenes are called bucky tubes, and the bulk solid form of pure fullerenes is called fullerite.

Properties of fullerenes.

The following are the properties of fullerenes.

  • They have high tensile strength.
  • They have high electrical conductivity.
  • They have high heat conductivity.
  • They are highly ductile.
  • They are relatively inert to chemicals.

Applications of fullerenes.

The following are the uses of fullerenes.

  • It has been used to make contrasting agents for x-rays and MRIs
  • It is used to make agents for drug and gene delivery.
  • It can be used to treat tumors and cancers.

Is graphene eco-friendly?

According to a study, graphene can be used to make more eco-friendly and sustainable products.

Graphene can be used to make solar panels that would help in more consumption of solar energy and reduce overreliance on crude fuel.

Graphene can be used to make smart cards, smartphone screens, and car batteries. Due to their high durability, these materials will be highly durable and reduce waste disposal in the environment, hence reducing pollution.

Graphene is a molecule still under research, and therefore, more about its sustainability and eco-friendliness shall continue to unravel.

Conclusion.

This article has answered the question of the biodegradability of graphene.

It has also covered other areas such as:

  • Carbon and its properties.
  • The allotropes of carbon, their properties, and applications.
  • The eco-friendliness of graphene.

For any questions or comments please use the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): is graphene biodegradable?

What is the biggest problem with graphene?

Graphene’s biggest problem is that it has proven a little tricky for it to be produced in high volumes. Research has shown that the production of graphene will be very costly.

Will graphene replace lithium?

Current research has shown the potential replacement of lithium with graphene because of graphene’s superior properties as compared to lithium.

Is graphene stronger than a diamond?

Research has shown that graphene is stronger, yet more flexible than diamond.

Citations.

Peres, N. M. R.; Ribeiro, R. M. (2009). “Focus on Graphene”. New Journal of Physics. 11 (9): 095002. doi:10.1088/1367-2630/11/9/095002

Lee, Changgu (2008). “Measurement of the Elastic Properties and Intrinsic Strength of Monolayer Graphene”. Science. 321 (385): 385–388. doi:10.1126/science.1157996

Cartigny, Pierre; Pilot, Médéric; Thomassot, Emilie; Harris, Jeff W. (May 30, 2014). “Diamond Formation: A Stable Isotope Perspective”. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences.42(1):699–732. doi:10.1146/annurev-earth-042711-105259

Delhaes, Pierre (2000). “Polymorphism of carbon”. In Delhaes, Pierre (ed.). Graphite and precursors. Gordon & Breach. pp. 1–24. 

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