Why is carbon no longer a villain?

We commonly associate carbon primarily with power generation - after all, for decades it was the primary fuel for mankind’s economic development. And although it is now giving way to other energy sources due to its carbon intensity, its role does not end with the power industry. Carbon will stay with us for longer, but not as we know it today.

carbon
01 March 2022

As an element, carbon is ubiquitous in nature. As an element, carbon exists in many forms that have different and very valuable properties. Depending on this, carbon can be soft (graphite in pencils) or hard (diamond in grinders), conduct electricity well (graphene) or be a good insulator (like diamond). Its multiformity allows many applications.

Graphene, nanotubes or activated carbon carry enormous potential. They make it possible to create lighter and more durable engineering materials, which enables their use in many industries: electronics, medicine, construction, aerospace and automotive. Let’s explore ideas for putting them into practice!

Diament

Source: Unsplash

Graphene

That is, a structure that is one carbon atom thick. Sounds inconspicuous? And this is one of the greatest discoveries of recent years! Graphene has been known since 2004, and today it is used all over the world. Its discovery contributed to the development of photovoltaics, construction or transport. And yet we still don’t know all its capabilities! Flexible displays, more efficient electronics... these are just some of the many ideas for using graphene.

Today, using printed electronics methods, it is increasingly possible to use graphene in industry, for example in the manufacture of tyres or brake systems. It is added to concrete, thus reducing CO2 production. It is also used to reinforce building structures, especially in earthquake-prone areas. Besides, it can be used in the power industry, and according to research by Polish scientists led by Professor Tadeusz Knych, adding copper to graphene, for example, would reduce losses in energy transmission.

Graphene is also used in a variety of precision sensors and electrodes - from electrochemical sensors to the detection of harmful gaseous substances up to health monitoring such as measuring heart rate, blood pressure or blood glucose levels. Graphene is also being explored for stem cell technology. Perhaps it will one day be used to produce artificial bone cells?

CarbonSource Getty Images

Nanotubes

The world of innovative technology has gone mad for graphene, which is now used to make carbon nanotubes (hollow tubes). They have remarkable properties: they are extremely light, resistant to most chemicals, are more mechanically durable than steel and have water repellent properties. They also excel in terms of heat conduction: they perform better in this case than diamond. Sounds like the material of the future?

Not only are they used to create transistors, batteries and electronic circuits, but nanotubes are also used to make bicycle frames and tennis rackets! Scientists also want to use them in biomedicine - in the future they could support the treatment of nerve cells and help fight cancer. There are also high hopes for their use in wastewater treatment.

Activated carbon

While we are on the subject of purification, it is impossible to ignore activated carbon, which plays an important role in water-intensive industrial processes, i.e. wherever water contamination in production prevents it from being discharged into the sewer system.

Carbon filters are also used in composting plants, waste sorting plants, food processing plants, the plastics industry and the pharmaceutical industry.

Carbon filters have a particularly important task in reducing pollutants in the production of medicines, since substances hazardous to human life, health and the environment are produced then. 

In addition, activated carbon has been used in medicine for many years as a treatment for poisoning and indigestion. It absorbs compounds from solutions perfectly and thus helps remove bacteria and toxins from the body.

In addition to filtering out impurities, it is also worth noting the use of activated carbon to absorb gases. Carbon used in this way can be used in gas masks, filters and air conditioners, for example. It is commonly used in air purifiers, mainly in combination with the HEPA filter found in most hoovers.

Carbon fibres

That is, a material that consists almost entirely of stretched carbon structures and resembles graphite. They are very resistant to chemicals and do not melt. This enables them to be used primarily in construction materials and laminates. Carbon fibres are used to make high-pressure resistant containers, sailing canvas and even tents.

Carbon fibres are extremely light but very strong, which is why they are also used to make propellers, fishing rods, boat parts, catamaran hulls, gliders or bicycle frames. Reconstructive surgery, on the other hand, uses them to rebuild bone structures and in endoprostheses, for example.

Carbon bike 1

Source Unsplash

The website leaves information on users end devices (cookies) and uses this information to facilitate the use of the website. If you have allowed cookies to be stored in your browser settings, they will be left on your end device. You can define the conditions for storing or accessing cookies in your browser. Read more about cookies.