Common Ground: Carbon and Corrosion

A highly corroded piece of copper. Source: Wikicommons

Development of the ability to refine and use metals has ever been a defining factor of human technological advancement. As soon as we discovered the advantages of tools that were more durable and could hold a sharper edge than stone or wood we started to dominate our natural predators and form civilisation. The advent of iron allowed efficient agriculture, steel provided protection and sturdier housing, whilst copper served as the infrastructure for the age of electricity.

Nowadays much of our modern industry would not function without the technological capabilities accessible through the use of metals. In Australia the mining industry alone contributes roughly 8.4% of the national gross domestic product annually, or $121 billion dollars in more understandable terms (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010). So it stands to reason that there is a lot of research being conducted into how to make the industry more efficient and reduce the costs of maintaining the infrastructure we put in place.

The next advancement in metallurgical science? Graphene.

Recently researchers from Monash University and Rice University published a paper in Carbon in which they revealed that a thin coating of graphene makes copper almost 100 times more resistant to corrosion than when untreated. This discovery is remarkable simply because all other techniques previously used to preserve copper (polymer coating, etc) have only ever yielded five or six times the protection.

The molecular structure of graphene. Source: Wikicommons

Graphene (pictured right) is a single atom thick layer of carbon atoms that exhibits a number of stunning mechanical properties, including great strength and flexibility. A microscopic coating of graphene on a copper surface results in an invisible, highly durable shield that prevents access from corrosive oxidants in the surrounding environment. This has a staggering number of applications, ranging from safer underwater cable-laying to longer-lasting synthetic organ implants.

The research team used a process called chemical vapour deposition (CVD) at temperatures between 800 and 900 degrees Kelvin to apply the graphene layer. After application the copper sample was tested for corrosion susceptibility in a saline water solution, showing very little rust when compared to an untreated sample. Dr Banerjee, who performed many of the experiments drawn upon in the study, has stated that the group is currently investigating the viability of use on metals other than copper, as well as a means of applying the graphene coating at lower temperatures so as to increase market potential.

It would seem that, once again, one of the many forms of carbon-carbon structures has proved irrevocably useful in the development of more efficient industrial technologies. What other surprises does nanotechnology have in store?


3 Responses to “Common Ground: Carbon and Corrosion”

  1. Ryan Hodgman says:

    Although you might not think it, coating copper wires with graphene is surprisingly cheap. Something to do with the ease with which graphene is made.

    I have to admit, I’m a bit of a carbon fan-boy. 😀

  2. RuthBlair says:

    or it could be argued they would have to be replaced more often, and they are probably a million times more expensive and as a result a million times more valuable to anyone brave enough to steal some. Carbon is just one of those atoms that’s got it all, the looks the brains, the prowess at everything. You don’t want to, but you have to admire it.

  3. reimer says:

    My God, it seems nowadays that the uses of carbon are unlimited…. I wonder if graphene-coated wires are cheaper to produce? This could potentially be a huge milestone in the already huge trend of technology becoming exponentially cheaper. That said, this technology actually seems to be taking it a step further by making wires much longer-lived, and therefore not needing to be replaced nearly as often.