Scientists Added Literal “Crap” To Graphene To Make A Point

Graphene's electrocatalytic properties can be enhanced by adding other things to it... including bird poop. koya979/ Shutterstock

Katy Pallister 05 Feb 2020, 20:04

If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you added bird poop to graphene and tested its electrocatalytic ability, then you’re in luck. Published in the journal ACS Nano, a non-peer-reviewed perspective article titled “Will Any Crap We Put into Graphene Increase Its Electrocatalytic Effect?” (yes that is its real title) highlights what the authors say is the “meaningless of the never-ending co-doping of graphene.”

Churning out papers that demonstrate how adding anything (i.e. a dopant) to the single-layered form of carbon improves its ability to speed up electrochemical reactions (electrocatalysis) is not helpful for the field, argue the authors from the University of Toronto and the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague. Instead, they believe that “researchers should focus their energy on other research directions” and understand the fundamentals of the material’s electrocatalytic abilities.

 

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Graphene is strong, conductive, and nearly transparent – properties that have continually garnered it scientific attention. However, its “once fantastic” electrocatalytic ability has been described as not so fantastic anymore. Therefore, in science’s pursuit to “make graphene great again,” the material has been repeatedly doped with an array of elements, including nitrogen (N), sulfur (S), phosphorus (P), boron (B), etc. to enhance its role as an electrocatalyst. These are used to improve the efficiency of oxygen reduction (used in fuel cells) and hydrogen evolution (used in electrolyzers).

“One may exaggerate only a little by saying that if we spit on graphene it becomes a better electrocatalyst,” write study authors Lu Wang, Zdenek Sofer, and Martin Pumera, who acknowledge their study also does nothing to contribute to the search for a viable graphene dopant.

Figures (A) and (B) show the guano-doped graphene oxide in two different scales, and figures (C) and (D) show the nondoped graphene oxide on the same scales. Lu Wang, Zdenek Sofer, Martin Pumera (2020)/ ACS Nano

So, to cut the “crap” in graphene doping, the team literally added crap, specifically guano (bird poop), to graphene and tested its electrocatalytic effect. Sourced from chickens in the Czech Republic, the bird poop was blended with graphene oxide, which was produced in two different ways and has similar properties to graphene. The researchers found that the bird poop added extra N, S, and P to graphene, which, you guessed it, made bird dropping-treated graphene more electrocatalytic than non-doped graphene.

The point of the paper wasn’t for people to start using guano-doped graphene instead of platinum in fuel cells and electrolyzers (although if this did happen, “guano could once again become a valuable and highly sought-after product” – see their references 35-38).

The point was to “stop this never-ending doping madness,” Martin Pumero, co-author from the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague told ChemistryWorld. He added, “my goal was to inspire people to be more critical in general and I hope I at least in part succeeded.”

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