A brief word on a new supermaterial

Tom James @ 05-05-2009

graphene-transistorGraphene: a material consisting of a sheet of carbon atoms one atom thick. Graphene was first identified only a few years ago, and has since been proferred for all sorts of uses, including ultracapacitors, spintronics, and now as a light source:

Microchips is just one of the material’s potential applications. Because of its single-atom thickness, pure graphene is transparent, and can be used to make transparent electrodes for light-based applications such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) or improved solar cells.

It is also apparently very strong:

The mobility of electrons in graphene — a measure of how easily electrons can flow within it — is by far the highest of any known material. So is its strength, which is, pound for pound, 200 times that of steel.

The problem is to find a way to mass-manufacture it:

The trick that enabled the first demonstrations of the existence of graphene as a real separate material came when researchers at the University of Manchester applied sticky tape to a block of graphite and then carefully peeled off tiny fragments of graphene and placed them on the smooth surface of another material.

“They don’t care if they go to a lot of effort to make five tiny pieces, they can study those for years.” But when it comes to possible commercial applications, it’s essential to find ways of producing the material in greater quantities.

[from Physorg][image from Physorg]


Coal: fuel of the future

Tom James @ 24-04-2009

geological-carbonThe British government has given the go-ahead to a new generation of coal-fired power plants incorporating carbon-capture and storage technologies in a bid to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Clean coal has been met with criticism and the policy seems just a little bit flaky:

Up to four new plants will be built if they are fitted with technology to trap and store CO2 emissions underground.

The technology is not yet proven and would only initially apply to 25% of power stations’ output.

Green groups welcomed the move but said any new stations would still release more carbon than they stored.

Uh huh. According to UK energy secretary Ed Miliband:

Once it is “independently judged as economically and technically proven” – which the government expects by 2020 – those stations would have five years to “retrofit” CCS to cover 100% of their output.

Kind of a glass quarter-full situation then. And it might not even work. But do check out the details.

[image and articles from the BBC and the Guardian]


1 tree = 111 books: is reading an environmentally sound pastime?

Paul Raven @ 11-02-2009

book stacksOver at Tor.com, novelist M M Buckner does a bit of soul searching regarding her reading pastime; if one tree makes 111 books, is the environmental sacrifice justifiable?

How long does it take you to read 111 books? What if you count magazines, newspapers, catalogs, photocopies , billing statements, Valentine cards to loved ones? Every year, one tree absorbs 26 pounds of carbon dioxide and exhales enough oxygen to keep four people alive. The UN says, to make up for all the trees we’ve killed in the last decade alone, we’d need to plant a forest the size of Peru. Only, Peru is just not into that.

So is buying a book a form of murder? When I leaf through the latest science fiction thriller, am I suffocating some future possible infant in the crib? Does reading make me a baby killer?

Her response is that the ebook revolution that’s currently gathering pace is the antidote to any such worries, and it comes with a side serving of “literary egalitarianism” – in other words, it activates a kind of Long Tail economics where more obscure titles become better business propositions, which is something that one would hope even the most die-hard climate skeptic can get behind. [image by ginnerobot]

Of course, if you’re still worried about atoning for your book habit, you could always reduce your footprint in some other way, like eating less meat


Clean up carbon nanotubes with… horseradish?

Paul Raven @ 22-12-2008

No need to worry about the potential toxicity of carbon nanotubes making their way into the food chain any more; researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have discovered that nanotubes are biodegraded in the presence of a natural enzyme found in horseradish. That’s one less thing to beef about, then. [via KurzweilAI]


Insurance: Pay As You Drive

Tom Marcinko @ 12-08-2008

flying-carA fact of life underused in sf is vehicle insurance. Your characters will thank you if you insure them on a pay-as-you-go basis, which should provide a disincentive to rack up the mileage. Good for the environment, good for safety. (Your characters are rational economic actors, aren’t they?)

[“The Future?” by Randy Read; updated to add story tip: Atrios]


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