Diamonds from the sky

Carbon nanofibres. Extremely tiny; submicroscopic, in fact. Extremely strong. Very valuable. But what would you do with them? We’ll come to that in a minute.

Carbon nanofibres can be made using the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the greenhouse gas primarily responsible for climate change and global warming. Wow, imagine pulling huge chunks, for want of a better term, of this nasty greenhouse gas out of the sky and transforming it into strong and highly useful material. The mind boggles.

‘We calculate that with a physical area less than 10 percent the size of the
Sahara Desert, our process could remove enough CO2
to decrease atmospheric levels to those of the
pre-industrial revolution
within 10 years.’
Stuart Licht, PhD, leader of the George Washington University research team

But wait — there’s more. Carbon nanofibres are really cheap to make — hundreds of times less than the value of the carbon nanofibres produced, a ratio to be more than proud of. The process, developed at George Washington University, uses only a few volts of solar-generated electricity mixed with lots of carbon dioxide. (You can read more about the process here.)

And this is not the future. Scientists can do it now. But back to our earlier question: What do you do with these carbon nanofibres? Well, if you’re into building airplanes, cars or submarines, it keeps them light but strong. Or if consumer products is more your thing, they’re really handy in high-end sports equipment like racing cycles. Or maybe your organisation is in the sustainability industry itself, in which case, you might be interested in using carbon nanofibres in wind turbine blades.

Technology has advanced more in the past 30 years than in the past 2,000, and great leaps forward can bring unexpected and unimagined benefits. We just need to keep thinking and keep innovating.