Leonard Kelley holds a bachelor's in physics with a minor in mathematics. He loves the academic world and strives to constantly explore it.
Carbon can be a dirty word depending on who you talk to. For some it is a miraculous material behind nanotubes but for others it’s a byproduct polluting our world. Both have their validness, but let’s look at the positive aspects that carbon developments have achieved, just to see if there is something we missed. After all, looking back and seeing mistaken ideas is easier than looking forward to anticipate them.
Making Diesel from Carbon
In April 2015, the automotive company Audi released their method for using carbon dioxide and water to create diesel fuel. The key was high-temperature electrolysis, where steam was broken up into hydrogen and oxygen using electrolysis. The hydrogen is then combined with the carbon dioxide at the same intense heat and pressure to create hydrocarbons. With a more efficient design to reduce the energy required to make this, it could become a viable way to recycle carbon dioxide (Timmer “Audi”).
Hydrogen without the Carbon
Natural gas, aka methane, is a great fuel source when compared to fossil fuels because more energy can be extracted from the breaking of chemical bonds (courtesy of the 4 hydrogens linked to a central carbon). However, carbon is still a part of methane and so it also contributes to carbon emissions. One could use a similar method from the diesel by heating up the methane with steam but this will result in a mix of gases. If one applies a solid proton-conducting electrolyte with a charge, the positive hydrogen will be attracted while the carbon dioxide remains neutral. That hydrogen converts to fuel while that carbon dioxide can be harvest as well (Timmer “Converting”).
Handle the Heat
Technology that can deal with extreme temperatures would be important for several industries such as rockets and reactors. One of the latest developments in this field is silicon carbide fibers with ceramic shells between them. Carbon nanotubes with a silicon carbide surface are dipped into "ultra fine silicon powder" and then cooked together, changing the carbon nanotubes to silicon carbide fibers. The materials created with this can withstand 2000 degrees Celsius, but when subjected to high pressure the material cracks and obviously that would be bad. So researchers at Rice University and the Glenn Research Center created a "fuzzy" version, where the fibers were much rougher on their surfaces. This enabled them to grab better and therefore maintain structural integrity, with an increase in strength nearly 4 times that of its unaltered predecessor (Patel "Hot").
Hot Ice and Diamonds
It may not seem like a natural conclusion but diamonds may have a connection to a strange form of water known as hot ice (specifically, ice VII). Capable of existing at temperatures as hot as 350 degrees Celsius and at 30,000 atms, it’s been hard to spot and especially tricky to study. But using the laser from SLAC, a diamond was vaporized and created a pressure differential of 50,000 atms as it was destroyed, allowing the hot ice to form. Then by following up with x-rays send at femtoseconds (10-15 seconds) allowed diffraction to occur and probe the inner mechanics of the ice. Who would have thought that one of carbon’s amazing forms could lead to such techniques? (Hooper)
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While we are on the subject, there is another interesting finding pertaining to diamonds but nothing that you can see. According to research and development by the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore along with City University of Hong Kong and the Nanomechanics Laboratory at MIT, nanoscale diamonds have been created which can bend “by as much as 9% before breaking” – that translates to withstand a pressure differential of 90 gigapascals, or about 100 times the strength of steel. How is this possible, given that diamonds are one of the toughest materials known to man? First, a high temperature hydrocarbon vapor is allowed to collect onto silicon, condensing into a solid as it went through a phase change. Then by slowly and carefully removing the silicon one is left with these nice, small nanoscale diamonds. Some applications for these nanoscale bendable diamonds include biomedical equipment, super-small semiconductors, temperature gauge, and even a quantum spin sensor (Lucy).
And if that absolutely doesn’t blow you away, then how about two-dimensional diamonds (practically, for nothing is truly flat but can be a few atomic radii in height). Development done by Zongyou Yin of the Australian National University and his team have found a way to develop them in such a way that they can be a transition-metal oxide, a special class of transistor that normally perform badly as temperatures increase or are difficult to manufacture as they are fragile materials. But this new transistor solves that “by incorporating hydrogen bonds into molybdenum trioxide” which help smooth out these issues. Those same potential uses for diamond materials mentioned before hold here too, promising a better technological future (Masterson).
Hooper, Joel. “To make hot ice, take one diamond and vaporize with a laser.” Cosmosmagazine.com. Cosmos. Web. 22 Jan. 2019.
Lucy, Michael. “Shine on you bendy diamond.” Cosmosmagazine.com. Cosmos. Web. 22 Jan. 2019.
Masterson, Andrew. “2D diaonds set to drive radical changes in electronics.” Cosmosmagazine.com. Cosmos. Web. 23 Jan. 2019.
Patel, Prachi. "Hot Rockets." Scientific American Jun. 2017. Print. 20.
Timmer, John. “Audi samples diesel made directly from carbon dioxide.” Arstechnica.com. Conte Nast., 27 Apr. 2015. Web. 18 Jan. 2019.
---. “Converting natural gas to hydrogen without any carbon emissions.” Arstechnica.com. Conte Nast., 17 Nov. 2017. Web. 18 Jan. 2019.
© 2019 Leonard Kelley