Like many kids, I’ve always liked taking things apart – especially when it came to stuff with bulbs, circuits and whatnot. Odds were I could never put it back together again, but the idea of playing around with neat stuff like abandoned televisions, radios or other circuitry always appealed to me (have soldering gun will travel; and don’t get me started on the fun of those old Estes Rockets,…!).
Fast forward to the present day where a lab accident utilizing this very same attitude may have very well changed our future.
Late last year, researchers in UCLA led by chemist Richard Kaner were just wrapping up a means of devising an efficient method for producing high-quality sheets of the supermaterial known as graphene with a consumer-grade DVD drive (!!!!) when somebody made an accidental discovery. One of the researchers, Maher El-Kady, wired a small square of their high quality carbon sheets up to a lightbulb when something really cool happened. As it turns out, Kaner and El-Kady had stumbled upon an energy storage medium with revolutionary potential, akin to filling your smart phone with a long-lasting charge in just a couple of seconds – or charging up an electric car in a minute.
Uh, er, agh, what?!?!???
A lot happened in that last paragraph, so let’s back up now:
1) These guys developed a new manufacturing methodology for mass producing Graphene (which is not an easy thing to do under the usual process) just by using a regular DVD player to conduct a form of laser inscribing (this is roughly akin to making diamonds by using a typical steam iron);
2) In the process of making this ground breaking discovery, these guys also just stumbled upon finding a new and potentially VERY powerful means of energy storage that can be achieved not in hours, but literally minutes – if not seconds.
Ok, so what does this all mean?
Graphene is a very cool and an outstanding material. It’s used in (among other applications) flat screen TV’s, transistors, computers and electronics, structures which need a strong weight to strength ratio – i.e., airplanes, rockets, etc. – basically, a specialized material which has universal application but is not readily available to do so given the cost and effort. So now if this new process is indeed confirmed (and apparently it has been) then we now have a way to produce these items at even LOWER costs – and using technology that is outdated (guess there’s gold in thar used DVD players after all,…).
So we’re talking about flat screen TV prices going down even lower while the picture quality would be enhanced (the cost ratio being lower now means more consumers can afford the more advanced versions). In addition, with the anticipated introduction to the general consumer of roll out screens (imagine screens as thin as tinfoil: flexible and yet strong being made of grapheme) we’re now talking about a more advanced date of introduction as well as cheaper pricing. Like those yoga mats, people will soon be able to literally roll up and take their large screen TV with them for meetings, events or just for kicks). And now the costs for making computers will drop even lower while the costs of making stronger, safer airplanes – or even cars – is now more readily possible.
The list goes on, but there’s the other crucial and potentially even more explosive aspect of this lab accident.
If the initial indicators are any sign, the time it would take to recharge an electric car utilizing this technology would literally take minutes: the same amount of time to fill up a gas / fossil fueled powered motor. So rather than having to plug your (electric car) Tesla in for several hours for a full and complete charge, we’re now talking about mere minutes – or the time it takes to fuel up at the gas station. In addition, smaller batteries made of this material / process would be able to last days while being able to charge up much more rapidly. Think cell phones, computers or other applications using batteries and lasting for days – and not mere hours – you’ll start to get the idea of what this all means.
To be sure, there’s more work to be done, but this is a very good start.
This is big; whoever funds this is going to do very well on the patent rights alone.
It makes one wonder what gave them the idea of applying electricity to the material at hand, but then again, I’d attribute it to ‘what the hell let’s see what happens if we do this?’ attitude; the very same attitude which helped bring about a lot of other neat inventions.
Not bad for a lab accident, eh?
For more on this, read the research papers for yourself: