Wednesday, June 8, 2022
Miguel Servet, Jaume Ferrán i Clua, Isaac Peral, María Vallet... The history of Spain takes us to different moments in which Spanish scientists gained international renown in different fields. In the energy field, Spain has seen the growth of research on how to optimize the performance of solar panels, how to develop cogeneration with green hydrogen and how to efficiently store thermal energy. Fortunately, the reserves of Spanish scientists is assured, since each great researcher is usually followed by several others.
One of those who is taking over in his field is 45 years old and happens to be one of Spain’s most talented scientists. If you are familiar with his face, you may have seen him on the news years ago. It was in 2012 when the Valencian Pablo Jarillo-Herrero was awarded by the Obama Administration, which gave him a grant of more than half a million dollars to research with the rest of his team.
Today, Jarillo works at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the most important science and technology centers in the world. He is researching the potential of graphene to produce energy in a much faster, more efficient and, above all, more sustainable way.
Magic angle graphene
Graphene is one of the most researched materials today thanks to its possibilities in practically all industrial sectors, since it is a material with high electrical and thermal conductivity and is also bactericidal and resistant to oxidation. Jarillo's research goes through what many scientists call the magic angle of graphene (MAG: magic angle graphene).
The magic angle technique is based on placing one sheet of graphene on top of the other. What Jarillo has been discovering is that, if one of the sheets is rotated over the other at an angle of 1.1 degrees, the graphene increases its conductivity exponentially. If several sheets are stacked instead of two, the increase in conductivity becomes exponential.
What does all this mean? It means that this material can increase its ability to create electricity; in fact, it can do so much more efficiently and sustainably. With their research, published in the journal Nature, Jarillo and his team are providing an answer to one of the questions that has plagued many scientists in recent decades: how high-temperature superconductivity is produced, something that would represent a real energy revolution. Since graphene was isolated in 2004 and its discoverers were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010, it has proven itself to be a material with infinite possibilities", says Joana Frontela, head of the Cepsa Research Center. In her opinion, "Pablo Jarillo-Herrero's research shows an extraordinary application: sustainable power generation".
Today, graphene is used in countless sectors for the manufacture of electronic devices, touch screens, photovoltaic solar cells and energy storage. If Jarillo's research continues, we can expect this material to become even more valuable and its applications to grow further in all industries. And that is the road ahead: "We are still a ways away from moving on from basic research on graphene to large-scale commercial applications. There are about 20-30 years to go before graphene will be used much more", he explains.
"This research", Frontela adds, "demonstrates once again that the energy transition requires research to develop new technologies. We may be on the verge of an energy revolution. Although there is still time to see it implemented, the results are very promising".
Jarillo's struggle is not falling on deaf ears; it is part of a growing trend: the search for increasingly sustainable energy. Society is increasingly aware of the need to invest in new sources of power generation, so renewables, hydrogen and biofuels are some of the examples that serve as a roadmap. Jarillo is adding one more element, graphene, to an equation in which we all participate and which has, ultimately, one overriding objective: revolutionize the energy sector and promote the transition to a new, more sustainable model.