With the development of new techniques of extracting hydrocarbons, particularly natural gas, we are gaining a windfall in the energy market. However, the continued burning of fossil fuels will only exasperate our carbon problems if we continue belching the exhaust into the atmosphere.
Let us consider “waste” not as a nuisance but as an unrecognized resource. An abundance of carbon could easily sustain the development of new markets, new industries and completely transform our means of manufacturing. What is now considered pollution could be recognized as a highly prized and versatile construction material.
We have long recognized the value of carbon throughout our lives, not simply from the fact that we are carbon based organisms, but through a variety of applications from the graphite in pencils to the diamond tips of drill bits. Recently, we have been discovering even more valuable uses of carbon. Carbon can be constructed into Fullerenes for uses in the electronic, pharmaceutical and numerous other industries. Carbon fiber can be made for various applications ranging from plush clothing to building materials that are stronger than steel.
The new abundance of hydrocarbons could be utilized to fund the construction of new power plants that would capture carbon exhaust and sell it for various manufacturing purposes, thus eliminating waste. I realize that the byproduct of hydrocarbon combustion is carbon dioxide which makes a molecular bond that is difficult for us to break. However, vegetative life on earth has been breaking this tenacious bond with nothing more than solar power for millions of years through the process of photosynthesis. There are always practical means for accomplishing anything. In fact, Dr. Yun Hang Hu and his research team at Michigan Technological University have already discovered a way to convert Carbon Dioxide gas into a solid material that can be utilized as an industrial manufacturing material.
Then, with these power plants, we would have a new source of electricity that would empower every aspect of our lives. Consider the transformation of our transportation industry by completely converting to electric vehicles. On long trips, we simply drive onto the interstate that propels vehicles with magnetic pulses over long distances. Then upon reaching the proximity of our destination, we exit the interstate and switch to battery power to drive directly to our specific destination. Then, we would be practically eliminating our carbon footprint while not sacrificing the convenience of private liberties in transportation by personal vehicles.
In manufacturing, factories could be automated so that they produced on demand practically any product with carbon fiber. These factories could be continually refined and placed more locally and eventually even within one’s own home. If you need a new set of dishware, no problem. If you need a screwdriver to fix that doorknob or just need a new doorknob, no problem. Just purchase the carbon, the energy and the design (or make your own design) and you instantly have a new set. When you’re finished with the set, just recycle the carbon. This adjustment in the manufacturing industry would relieve people from the insufferable monotony of assembly work in factories and create a new demand for technicians and programmers, and thus providing more people with more skilled and gratifying jobs while increasing efficiency in production.
The important point is that this new source of energy we are beginning to tap into should not be wasted as another pool of fuel to burn. Rather, this resource could be used to create and sustain a new ecology of ideas and innovation. We could easily use this power source to reduce pollution while revitalizing the manufacturing industry, employ and engage more scientists, while further engaging developing fields such as nanotechnology. This is an important opportunity for civilization and life on planet earth. Let’s not let it go up in smoke.
Garrett Buhl Robinson
I would like to extend my thanks to Dr. Robert C. Thomas for his professional advice regarding certain points made in this article and Trent Deike for informing me of the work done by Dr. Yun Hang Hu and his research team. Any inaccuracies in the article are the responsibility of the author alone.