Carbon Nanoribbon: Wrapped in Wonder

Carbon nanotubes are the Lego set of choice for materials scientists these days. Ray Baughman's Team from the University of Texas at Dallas has developed a system that can crank out 10 meters of the ribbon every minute. The video is impressive proof of manufacturing potential, but the practical uses are almost mind boggling. Transparent, flexible, electrically conductive, thin, lightweight, and stronger then steel they can be used for everything from super thin and flexible televisions and monitors to space elevator ribbons to highly efficient solar power.Published in this weeks Science, and covered by Nature News, this invention goes a long way to actually showing the promise of nanotechnology. We have seen the versatile nature of carbon nanotubes here on Treehugger: as a sticky substance that mimics a gecko foot, to a storage device for hydrogen fuel cells. But this is the first application which has the potential to turn into products on shelves- fast.

"Rarely is a processing advance so elegantly simple that rapid commercialization seems possible...Things move quickly if you can prove that the supply of the material is good" says Ray on his teams work.

Not only does this open up the standard ideas of flexible, and cheap electronics (as nanotubes are just carbon- one of the most plentiful of things we have these days), but developing materials on the nanolevel enables us to take advantage of 'molecular organization'. This may be a bit extending things, but as I have said before the ability to control materials at the molecular level is key to our future development of technology.

My first thoughts on electrically conductive nanotubes incorporate dye solar cell technology -enabling high efficiency solar cells at a fraction of their current cost. My mind then quickly drifts to the Space Elevator and how we may just be able to get rid of inefficient fuel burning airplane flight (not to mention space flight) - just take a solar powered crawler up the space elevator, and glide down to your destination. But that is just the beginning. ::Nature News ::Science