Advanced materials

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Carbon fiber

Carbon fiber is a substance that is four times lighter than steel, yet five times stronger. It is currently about 14 times the price of steel, but this is entirely a result of scarcity-based market forces; the raw materials are cheap and abundant. Light, strong materials like carbon fiber are essential to space travel, better transport systems and a host of other applications.

A carbon fiber car. Making cars out of carbon fiber instead of steel reduces the weight by hundreds of kilos, which represents a massive saving of energy usage. It also provides better safety in case of crashes.

Carbon nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes are a substance made from carbon atoms bound together like this —

Carbon nanotube.PNG

They have a lot of very interesting and very, very useful properties. For one thing, they have enormous tensile strength. A cable the thickness of a human hair made using carbon nanotubes could hold up a car. I can sense all the fly fishers reading this getting very excited at the prospect of a cable that strong, but it has other uses as well, for example, space elevators could be made using such cables, allowing easier access to space.

Most importantly of all, they can be used as filters to purify and desalinate water as discussed here.

Future uses of nanotubes may include providing the circuitry and motors for nanotechnology, in flywheels and capacitors to store electricity and in photovoltaics. However, even using only the applications that have been fully worked-out and realized, they have the capacity to change civilization.

They are not particularly expensive, even in a scarcity-based economy. They are made from simple carbon, which is cheap and common. There are companies selling them for $3 a gram. If production were scaled up to mass-production, the price would go down even further.