Making graphene from cow pats. Infographic

The guy who’s the co-founder of the Glastonbury Festival, Sir Michael Eavis, is a smart and switched-on guy and also a farmer – he uses some of his farm to stage the festival. He’s into sustainability and finding uses for the tons of cow manure produced on his farm, one of which is to create graphene from the methane in cow manure. Why does cow manure contain methane? See below the infographic.

Making graphene from cow pats. Infographic
Making graphene from cow pats. This infographic is free to use under an unconditional Creative Commons license. Click on it to see the original on another page and download that by right-clicking on it and following the menu.

Why does cow manure contain methane?

Cow manure contains methane because of the way cows digest their food. Cows, like other ruminant animals (sheep, goats, etc.), have a four-chambered stomach that allows them to break down tough plant material. Here’s what’s happening:

  1. Microbial Fermentation: Inside one of the chambers, called the rumen, microbes ferment the plant material the cow eats. These microbes help break down complex carbohydrates into simpler molecules. However, as a byproduct of this fermentation, they also produce methane gas.
  2. Anaerobic Environment: The rumen is an oxygen-limited (anaerobic) environment. This is important because the microbes that produce methane (methanogens) thrive in these conditions. With limited oxygen, they break down organic matter and release methane as a gas.
  3. Emission: Some of the methane produced by these microbes escapes through the cow’s mouth as burps (enteric fermentation). The rest exits the digestive system with the manure.

While cow manure itself isn’t actively producing large amounts of methane, it contains some of the gas produced by the microbes during the digestive process within the cow.

Here are some additional points to consider:

  • Manure Storage: How cow manure is stored can also affect methane emissions. When stored in open lagoons or piles, the anaerobic environment promotes further methane production from microbes breaking down the manure.
  • Management Strategies: There are ways to manage manure to reduce methane emissions, such as using covered storage facilities or anaerobic digesters that capture the methane for energy production.

So, the methane in cow manure is a result of the natural fermentation process in the cow’s gut, and storage methods can influence further emissions.

Making graphene from methane

Here is a bit more on the process of making graphene from methane and ultimately from cow poo. 😎🤠

Methane, the main component of natural gas, can be a source material for producing graphene. There are two main methods that utilize methane for this purpose:

  1. Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD): This is a common technique for depositing thin films of various materials, including graphene. In the case of methane-derived graphene, the process involves heating a metal catalyst, typically copper, to high temperatures (around 1000°C) and introducing methane gas into the chamber. The methane decomposes on the hot catalyst surface, and the carbon atoms rearrange themselves into a graphene sheet on the copper.

While CVD is a versatile method, it has limitations for large-scale graphene production. The high temperatures required are energy-intensive, and the graphene grown on the copper foil needs to be subsequently transferred to another substrate, which can be a complex and additional step.

  1. Thermochemical Decomposition: This method involves directly decomposing methane at high temperatures (around 850°C – 1050°C) over a catalyst, often iron particles. This process breaks down the methane molecule and promotes the formation of graphene sheets. The advantage of this method is that it can be continuous and doesn’t require a separate transfer step. However, the quality of graphene produced by thermochemical decomposition may not be as high as that obtained from CVD.

Researchers are actively exploring ways to improve these methods for methane-derived graphene production. The goal is to develop processes that are more energy-efficient, scalable, and produce high-quality graphene.

Here are some of the potential benefits of using methane as a source material for graphene:

  • Utilization of a waste product: Methane is a major component of natural gas, and a significant amount is vented or flared into the atmosphere each year. Using methane for graphene production could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Cost-effective source of carbon: Methane is a relatively abundant and inexpensive source of carbon, which is the main element in graphene.
  • Potential for green graphene production: If the methane used for graphene production comes from renewable sources, such as biogas, the entire process could be considered carbon neutral.

How can graphene be put to use?

Graphene’s potential applications are vast and exciting, thanks to its remarkable properties like high conductivity, strength, and thinness. Here are some of the promising areas where graphene is making waves:

Electronics:

  • Next-generation transistors: Graphene’s exceptional conductivity makes it a strong candidate for replacing silicon in transistors, potentially leading to faster and more efficient electronic devices.
  • Flexible electronics: Graphene’s flexibility allows for the creation of bendable and even transparent displays and circuits, paving the way for wearable technology and innovative device designs.

Energy:

  • Supercapacitors: Graphene’s high surface area makes it ideal for supercapacitors, which can store and release energy quickly, potentially revolutionizing electric vehicle charging and grid storage.
  • Lithium-ion batteries: Graphene can improve the performance of lithium-ion batteries by enhancing their capacity and charging speed.
  • Solar cells: Graphene-based transparent electrodes can improve the efficiency of solar cells by capturing more light.

Composites and Coatings:

  • Stronger and lighter materials: Graphene can be incorporated into composites to create lighter yet stronger materials for various applications, from cars and airplanes to sports equipment.
  • Anti-corrosion coatings: Graphene’s impermeability makes it a promising material for corrosion-resistant coatings, protecting pipelines, bridges, and other infrastructure.

Biomedical Applications:

  • Drug delivery: Graphene’s biocompatibility and unique properties can be utilized to deliver drugs directly to targeted cells, improving treatment efficacy and reducing side effects.
  • Tissue engineering: Graphene scaffolds can potentially aid in tissue regeneration by providing a platform for cell growth and promoting tissue repair.
  • Biosensors: Graphene’s sensitivity allows for the development of biocompatible sensors for disease detection and monitoring biological processes.

Other Potential Uses:

  • Desalination membranes: Graphene membranes can potentially improve desalination efficiency by allowing for faster and more energy-efficient saltwater purification.
  • Sensors: Graphene’s ability to detect various chemicals and physical phenomena makes it suitable for creating highly sensitive and versatile sensors.

It’s important to remember that graphene is still in a relatively early stage of development. While research is ongoing to refine production methods and explore new applications, the full potential of this wonder material is yet to be fully realized.

Source for the 3 above subheadings: Google Gemini.

RELATED: Farmyard slurry gases used to power tractors – this is another innovative way of using slurry as a source of energy. Sustainability is today’s buzzword. Both the above are about sustainability.

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