Science & Technology

Ecuador scientists develop environmental solutions using sustainable graphene

By Daniela Brik

Loja, Ecuador, Jul 6 (EFE).- A pioneering project in Ecuador to synthesize graphene is starting to yield promising results in the removal of pollutants from water.

Dubbed the ‘material of the future’, graphene — a microscopic hexagonal mesh of carbon atoms — is a highly resistant but very flexible material with a formation similar to that of graphite, which is commonly used in pencils.

The project being conducted at the Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja (UTPL) in southern Ecuador is developing environmental solutions with graphene that has been synthesized in a sustainable way, unlike many other methods that are highly polluting.

“The idea is to contribute to the conservation of the environment with methodologies that are ecological,” Ximena Jaramillo, professor and head of the new materials laboratory at UTPL, tells Efe.

In 2010, initial experiments on the material, which was discovered in 2004, earned Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Today, more than a decade later, researchers are striving to achieve high-quality graphene, but synthesized with non-reactive solvents.

Scientists at UTPL are testing synthesization techniques with water, acids such as ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and even Andean potato extracts.

“The students are very interested not only in making changes and improvements to the production of synthesis, but also in how to apply and present prototypes in different fields,” Talía Tene, chemistry professor and member of the Materials Science and Technology research group at UTPL, tells Efe.

Two successful cases have already come out of the laboratory.

The first uses graphene to absorb methylene blue — a salt used as a dye in denim garments — from water, while the second uses the material for the removal of mercury, a heavy metal used in illegal gold mining and a high pollutant in rivers.

“It could be an excellent solution for decontaminating the rivers that run from Ecuador to Peru,” says Tene.

The professor adds that the use of graphene could be applied in medicine and in the early detection of breast cancer.

“Temperature changes in the breast can give a prognosis that there may be a problem. Being a good conductor of heat, graphene oxide, together with electronics, could become a sensor to detect modifications in the breast,” Tene says.

Using natural extracts, scientists at UTPL are striving to obtain a final product similar to the material manufactured in China, but that uses chemical components to synthesize the material.

Another challenge is to increase the scalability of the material produced in the laboratory to be able to produce larger quantities.

“It seems to be a very simple material, but let’s remember that nanomaterials act in small quantities,” Tene says. EFE


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