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Age of Carbon: Rebuilding the World One Atom at a Time

Carbon Graphene

Imagine a world without batteries as we know them today. Where our cars, our homes, aircraft, spacecraft and even our own bodies ran off renewable, invisible energy. No wires. No plugs. No electric bills or air pollution. If your job right now is to produce those things, take note. Our industries and the world as we know it are heading for creative destruction. Not to say the Earth will pass on but the world our children grow up in, will look completely different than it does today.

 

Nano PrintingThroughout history, only a handful of remarkable discoveries and inventions have had a deep and lasting impact on the course of mankind. There was agriculture, metallurgy, the iron-age, the industrial revolution and electricity. There was the pharmaceutical revolution and the advent of modern medicine, computers and the information age leading us beyond our own skies to begin exploring the space around us. Today, science is breaking apart the very building blocks of matter and reassembling them in our own design. Structuring the world around us one atom at a time.

This may sound like science fiction but discovery and advancement exist first as an idea drawn out of the observable universe. The idea is then molded, tested, remolded and retested, again and again until our reality begins to change.

150 years ago, one such idea began to form as scientists studied the physical properties of graphite. It took nearly a hundred years before the atomic structure was observed and the first theory about its electronic properties emerged. Fifty years later, a pair of scientists from the U.K., Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, discovered a way to isolate a single layer of graphite for study using common household Scotch tape. What they found created more questions, fueled their imagination and potentially sparked the next industrial revolution.

Material Science

It is called Graphene. First, let’s look at the physical properties that have set the world’s collective imagination on fire. Graphene is a single layer of carbon atoms held together by a covalent bond. The carbon atoms are structured in a honey-comb lattice with one atom at each vertex of the structure. It has length and width but because it is a single atom thick, it has no practical height. It is the strongest material we know, stronger than diamonds and 100 times stronger than steel at the same hypothetical thickness. Graphene has conductive properties, allowing heat and electricity to pass through it very efficiently. It can also store electricity. It is impermeable, flexible, transparent, hydrophobic, non-corrosive and biocompatible.

The two U.K. scientists who developed the Scotch tape technique, received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for their experiments to extract the single-atom-thick crystallite structure of Graphene from bulk graphite. While the Scotch tape method was impressive because it could be done with household materials, it failed to produce large scale sheets of the material.

Producing or acquiring large sheets for experimentation proved to be difficult. In theory, Graphene could solve many of the challenges we face today; but, in practice, the material created a lot of challenges of its own. Like any new discovery, there has been a learning curve and it has taken time to refine the process and develop new applications. Here are some of the applications put forward for the discovery:

Applications

• Batteries that serve as supercapacitors with larger capacity and faster transmission that can be built into the structures they power, eliminating the need for modern batteries.
• Desalinating ocean water 1000 times more efficiently than we currently can.
• Scrubbing Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere.
• Composite materials that are lighter and stronger for the construction, aerospace and automotive industries. Conserving energy by making transportation lighter.
• Medical applications for DNA sequencing, bionic prosthetics, artificial biocompatible lenses that can repair certain types of blindness, cancer detection and drug delivery.
• Solar cells that take advantage of its transparent and conductive properties.
• Technology applications through flexible digital displays, conductivity and self-powering devices as well as ultra-fast data processing and lasers.
• Hydrogen and absorbed natural gas storage at low compression.
• Internet of Things (IoT) building interconnected smart fabrics, plastics and other materials.
• Conductive paints and inks for printing circuits and power transmission.
• Hydrophobic coatings for ships giving them less resistance and increased efficiency.

Scientists, theorists, industry leaders and even governments have jumped on board investing billions of dollars in the research and development of the material. New techniques were developed that could produce the Graphene more efficiently and on a much larger scale. Within the next few years of Geim’s and Novoselov’s discovery, several methods were developed including: electron beam lithography, chemical synthesis, electrochemical preparation, Graphene oxide reduction, C60 catalytic transformation, microwave assisted hydrothermal method, the Soft-Template method, hydrothermal method and the ultrasonic exfoliation method.

Flexible GrapheneDozens of small companies have emerged and brought new products to market already including, flexible touch displays, new Li-Ion batteries, composite materials in sporting goods equipment, printed anti-theft packaging systems, low heat Graphene lighting systems and new radio-frequency identification tags. This is only a small list of the new products already on the market. It is only a matter of time before this technology finds its way into everything.

Versatility

One of the things that makes Graphene so attractive, apart from its physical properties, is that it is made of Carbon. Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe. It is clean, renewable, sustainable and non-toxic. As our manufacturing capabilities increase, it will become more cost effective to use in products. Eventually we will even able to use it as a substrate for at-home 3D printing.

Structuring the Future

Carbon is considered the basic building block of life. Its ability to form long, stable chains with other elements is what makes the complexity of all life possible. Our ability to manufacture materials on the atomic level is still in its infancy. As more of these types of technological advancements take place, we will be able to design and build with even greater complexity and tackle our greatest challenges. Because of its strength, ubiquity and versatility, carbon may even hold the key to an interplanetary future for mankind.

Each step on this journey of discovery has the potential to disrupt everything we know today. Our industries will change, manufacturing, energy, transportation, agriculture, military etc. Within the next 5 to 10 years, the convergence of chemistry, physics, engineering and manufacturing could culminate in the next stage of our social evolution, resulting in a dramatic shift in knowledge, industry, medicine and culture. This new era will likely become known as the Age of Carbon.

SOURCES

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphene
http://www.cnet.com/news/the-carbon-age-dark-element-brighter-future/
http://www.cnet.com/news/can-buckyballs-store-hydrogen/
http://www.idtechex.com/research/reports/Graphene-2d-materials-and-carbon-nanotubes-markets-technologies-and-opportunities-2015-2025-000440.asp
http://www.catchnews.com/science-technology/you-may-not-know-how-to-pronounce-endohedral-fullerenes-but-it-s-going-to-change-your-life-1452541014.html
http://www.profitguide.com/manage-grow/technology/why-viable-graphene-products-are-only-just-coming-to-market-86205


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Our home office is centrally located just outside Dallas. Over the years we have built a nationwide presence by completing many projects throughout the U.S. We specialize in automation, equipment & conveyor installations, rigging, mezzanine & structural steel fabrication and erection, machine moving & rigging, plant equipment decommissioning, and plant maintenance. Our projects range from half-day preventative maintenance procedures to turnkey assembly/production line installations.

A Plus Industrial Installation
Division of Surpass Inc.
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