British scientists have developed a prototype graphene paint that can make coatings which are resistant to liquids, gases, and chemicals. The team says the paint could have a variety of uses, from stopping ships rusting to keeping food fresher for longer. Jim Drury reports.
Graphene's been called the miracle material of the 21st Century. Formed in flat sheets just one atom thick it's incredibly strong, a key ingredient in anything from tennis rackets to batteries. Now scientists at the University of Manchester have made a key discovery - that graphene oxide could be created using oxygen. They then used this as an ingredient in a special paint that provides an ultra-strong coating impermeable to gas, liquid, and strong chemicals. Study first author Dr Yang Su says graphene paint could make chemical containers and ships rust-proof. It could also be used in plastic packaging - to improve the shelf life of drugs and food. SOUNDBITE (English) DR YANG SU, MANCHESTER UNIVERSITY SCIENTIST AND FIRST AUTHOR OF GRAPHENE PAINT STUDY, SAYING: "A lot of food it's got expired because the water and oxygen go inside the food, so now if we can simply coat this paint on the plastic, which we use for packages of food because again it can stop there's no place for water and oxygen to pass through it helps to keep your food fresh." Team leader Dr Rahul Nair says it could also revolutionise flexible electronics. SOUNDBITE (English) MANCHESTER UNIVERSITY'S DR RAHUL NAIR, YANG SU'S SUPERVISOR, SAYING: "People are now talking about bendable electronics, flexible electronics and so on. So one of the major problems they're facing is that they don't have a good barrier film to protect their organic, electronic, material. So with the ability of our film definitely we should be able to help this organic electronics and one of the advantages is graphene is flexible." For decades physicists thought graphene impossible to isolate, because thin crystalline sheets were regarded as unstable. But a University of Manchester team found they could extract single-atom-thick crystallites from bulk graphite using common sticky tape. Nair says there's been lots of commercial interest in the paint. But if you're tempted to use it to give your house the perfect permament coating, think again. The paint can only be made in black.