It’s time for a short break from politics and a brief excursion into… SCIENCE! (Yes, yes… I know. Republicans don’t care about science, but this may turn out to be important for your smart phone. More on that later.)
Some of the great scientific breakthroughs of the last century came about entirely by accident. Many of you are probably familiar with the origins of the Post It Note, and how it was invented as a result of a failure when attempting to create a super strong adhesive. Well, there may be another such story taking place in the present day. Scientists working with carbon compounds developed Graphene, a safe substance with a lot of structural strength for very little mass and weight. And then some wise guy discovered that it had another use.
The recap: Graphene, a very simple carbon polymer, can be used as the basic component of a “supercapacitor” — an electrical power storage device that charges far more rapidly than chemical batteries. Unlike other supercapacitors, though, graphene’s structure also offers a high “energy density,” — it can hold a lot of electrons, meaning that it could conceivably rival or outperform batteries in the amount of charge it can hold. Kaner Lab researcher Maher El-Kady found a way to create sheets of graphene a single carbon atom thick by covering a plastic surface with graphite oxide solution and bombarding it with precisely controlled laser light.
That last sentence may sound pretty complicated, but the article’s author provides a translation for the layman.
He painted a DVD with a liquid carbon solution and stuck it into a standard-issue DVD burner.
The result was a shockingly thin supercapacitor which could store up a large amount of electrical energy in no time flat. The potential for this sort of discovery should be obvious. Unlike heavy metal batteries, the carbon compound is biodegradable and cheap to manufacture. And a battery made of layers of this material could charge your cell phone for a full day’s use in – wait for it – two seconds. A ramped up version could charge an electric car in a minute or two. (No word on how likely it will be to catch on fire, but bonus points if it doesn’t.)
Here’s the video I mentioned. It’s not long and explains the process better than I ever could. I have to say, this is pretty exciting stuff if it comes to fruition.