Editors' note: This is a guest column. See Aaron Feaver's bio below.
Humankind has seen the Stone Age, the Golden Age, and the Iron Age. Some would argue the 20th century should be called the Silicon Age. Based on the events of its first 10 years, the 21st century may very well become known as the Carbon Age.
An important tension is unfolding between two types of carbon--atmospheric carbon in the form of carbon dioxide emissions, and elemental carbon as a building block for a new generation of devices designed to manage and abate those same pollutants. Our way of life has become dependent on energy generated by the process of extracting carbon from the earth in the form of fossil fuels and then burning it to form carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, we have begun developing carbon in solid form as an advanced material to counter the effects of its atmospheric cousin.
From the days of Thomas Edison, when an exhaustive list of carbon fibers were pyrolyzed, or thermochemically decomposed sans oxygen, from natural materials to form the filaments of the first successful lightbulb, to the development of activated carbon as the first commercial nanomaterial, to the discovery of buckyballs and the invention of carbon nanotubes, carbon has always generated an abundance of near-term change, cutting-edge breakthroughs, and even economic prosperity.
Our future will be brighter because new materials built on the many allotropes of carbon will function as the base-building blocks for a host of solutions--including cleaner batteries, cleaner water, and cleaner air--that will benefit our society, our economies, and our planet.
There are legions of carbon-based innovations to watch between now and 2020. As the research deepens and expands, and the technologies are fully developed and rolled out, new products and processes will be embraced by the automotive industry for hybrid electric vehicles, by electronics manufacturers for enhancing the life and usability of consumer goods, and by a variety of industrial customers to deliver an ever-increasing breadth of new ways to improve energy efficiency.
Here are the highlights of what we can expect:
Lithium ion batteries They are among the best-performing batteries because of their combination of relatively high power and energy density. They also, unfortunately, have a very high cost. While relatively well known in the market, the role of their carbon ingredients is less understood and appreciated. These batteries use a lithium-based oxide cathode, which can store an abundance of lithium but is not conductive. … Read more