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 Let me start off by mentioning that one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the decade has recently occurred and odds are that you missed it. It has to do with the ability to mass produce industry ready nanotube sheets  . At this point, I can hear a collective "OK, what the heck are those and why should I care". Step into my lab and let me explain.

     Nanotubes, or buckeytubes, are basically tiny carbon tubes made up of a single layer of carbon atoms. Depending on the molecular structure of the carbon nanotubes, materials that contain or are made up of these "buckeytubes" can display a variety of advantageous properties. These can include being lightweight, stronger than steel, being able to efficiently conduct electricity, and as an added bonus buckeytubes have the potential to be awesome solar cells. Let's look at some of the practical possibilities:

  •     Nanotube materials could be utilized to build safe and fuel-efficient vehicles by reducing the weight of the vehicle. As car experts point out, huge gains in energy efficiency can be realized by reducing the weight of the vehicle since a large percentage of vehicle fuel usage is used to propel the weight of the vehicle itself. The concern brought up by car manufacturers is that reducing the weight of the vehicle increases the risk of injury and death in a car crash. However, cars that use nanotube materials for structural reinforcement would gain the advantages of being lighter weight and thus more fuel efficient while minimizing safety concerns.

  •      Nanotube materials have demonstrated impressive photovoltaic properties. Specifically, General Electric developed a carbon nanotube diode ( which is essentially what a solar cell is ) that operated at the theoretical limit of diode performance. They essentially created a perfect diode which according to the report exhibited "significant power efficiencies" in generating electricity from light.  Whether this development pans out in creating real and viable photovoltaic devices remains to be seen, but as the report indicates, it could pave the way to more efficient and cheaper photovoltaic devices.

  •     Nanotube materials have also shown promise in the area of battery storage because of its demonstrated ability to store approximately double the electrical charge that current rechargeable batteries can store. The advantage, of course, would be to allow hybrid vehicles or electric vehicles to have substantially greater range while utilizing their electric powered engine. Currently, engines powered from electric batteries have a range of 15-30 miles until being recharged. If you doubled the range of these vehicles, these cars could effectively travel up to 60 miles on electric power alone which is well within the range of the vast majority of car trips taken by Americans.

  •      Nanotube materials also have the potential to be used in super efficient quantum power lines. Currently, power lines conduct electricity by electrons moving chaotically down the wire. Because of this chaotic movement, up to 50% of the energy sent down the line is lost as heat. With power lines made out of nanotube materials i.e. quantum power lines, the electrons as Richard Smalley ( a nanotube researcher ) indicates "  behave as if, it's as if though they know where they want to go. They can only go one direction, right down the wire." Accordingly, nanotube researchers envision incredibly more efficient power lines that would allow power plants, wind farms, solar farms,etc. to be far away from the eventual consumers of the electricity..

     The possibilities of these new materials are tantalizing. However, the problem with these materials always related to the difficulty in producing them and the cost. Before this discovery, carbon nanotube sheets were produced very slowly and ,because of the difficulty in production, cost roughly about $400 a gram. Because of this breakthrough in nanotube material production, the amount of material that can be produced in a much shorter amount of time has increased by a few orders of magnitude. This, of course, will also cause the price of these materials to drop to more reasonable levels. The upshot is that these materials are likely going to have a significant impact in our lives over the next 15 years or so.

Originally posted to phasmatis on Fri Nov 11, 2005 at 07:23 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Diary Virgin (4.00)
    I am a diary virgin so please be gentle. Thanks.
  •  Nice diary. (none)
    Thanks for posting this.  I found it very interesting.  It's a shame it's not getting a little better response here.

    I think a lot of people feel like nanotubes are still an exotic technology, that's still aways away from significantly impacting our lives.

    This breakthrough makes it clear that it's not that far off.  Amazing things will happen once they figure out how to implement nanotubes on a major scale.

    "Drunk by noon, but that's okay. I'll be President someday." - Sublime from "Greatest Hit"

    by supergreen on Fri Nov 11, 2005 at 07:54:54 AM PST

  •  Well done, and informative. (none)
    Don't be disheartened if it doesn't float high and fast. It's good - and folks will realize that you do good stuff; there's a lot out there to sift through, so keep up the good work and the diaries.

    Your choice of topic is important, too - dual-importance, actually: nanomaterials, and energy.

    Several heavy-hitters will hopefully see it before it fades.

  •  Last night I just diared about (none)
    nanotechnology and how my area, upstate NY, is targeting tech firms and is now called "The Tech Valley."

    Nice to see we are on the right track.

    "If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention."

    by adigal on Fri Nov 11, 2005 at 08:17:50 AM PST

  •  reality often mirrors fiction (none)
    And if that's the case here, we'll be living in Neal Stephenson's "Diamond Age" before too long.  Recommended.  

    Anything that can help to eliminate dependence on oil (foreign or domestic) should be highly rated and publicized.  Hope this makes it to the Recommended Diaries list.  

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