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Visions for the Future with Carbon Nanotubes

Posted by on July 17, 2021

Visions of a future with Carbon Nanotubes

Gadhadar Reddy

Carbon is a versatile material capable of forming Structures that are both simple and complex with ease. This ability of carbon has made it the material of choice for life on earth. The material is abundant on earth and nearby planetary bodies. Just when we thought that we knew everything; It had a few more tricks up its sleeve. While observing Starlight, Professor Kroto found that there were lines of carbon that did not seem to match any known forms of carbon. He met Richard Smalley at a conference at Rice University, and they began talking about the strange new forms of carbon. At that time, Dr.Smalley had access to the world’s most powerful laser and used it to fire various materials to see what they’re made of. Sitting on a couch, they decided to carry out a few experiments by blowing up carbon in the presence of Iron to see what happens. The experiments yielded the first conclusive evidence of a new form of carbon called fullerenes. These unique football-shaped molecules played a pivotal role in kickstarting nanotechnology.

Further developments in fullerenes led to the discovery of carbon nanotubes. Especially single-walled carbon nanotubes. These unique molecules seem to have the ability strength and properties that were unmatched by any known material. These were the fictional diamond tubes the authors had always predicted but had been incredibly difficult to manufacture. Studies on the properties of the carbon nanotubes revealed that they had strength higher than any material known to humanity. They also had unique electrical properties, the ability to withstand radiation, and the ability to self-repair any ability to form complex chain molecules like their precursor carbon. The applications of the material were enormous, but the manufacturability was incredibly tough. A familiar situation in the history of materials, just like Napoleon used aluminium vessels to feed his guests because it was the most expensive metal. Nanotubes are in a similar place. In the following few lines, we’re going to look at all the opportunities and things that would be changed by making use of carbon nanotubes in our daily lives.


t’s March 2041, humanity’s permanent settlement on Mars is celebrating the natural birth of a human being beyond earth. A thrilling moment for an exploration that led us to conquer Space. The baby’s cries resonate across living rooms on Earth, the entire cabinet is in attendance, laboratories on the Moon and the miners on Phobos/Deimos are all at a standstill to bear witness to a new leap in mankind’s journey. Hope fills up the atmosphere and people have come to standstill as one species.

Countless people worked tirelessly for this moment. Computers watched the baby and mother real-time in-situ. The Gynecologist in charge was a Brain Computer Interface integrated to the captain. He could see virtual doctors scurrying around the room, looking at data, interpreting results and ensuring the data was in line with experience. The robotic arms with human like muscles could perform intricate movements and hold heavy weights. A quantum link ensured real-time communication despite the vast distance. The medical bay was a structural marvel by itself. The entire structure was held in tension by ropes that swirled down smart tent material that could deflect meteorites and repair itself in case of damage. The self-repairing composite had the ability to sense pressure, temperature and external forces. The tables doubled up as chargers. There were no wires anywhere. All objects charged as soon as they were on a table. Data syncs happened instantly. The cameras were live streaming the room in 3D. Millions of people had walked in the medical bay and seen the baby within a few seconds of the announcement. The baby was kept warm by clothes that were capable of heating and cooling as per the temperature needs. It had been set to a warm 25C by the research team from Vani Vilas Hospital, Bangalore. The one city whose weather is still hard to beat anywhere in the solar system.

The emergency lights turned on as the main power system was shut down due to a fuse blowout. A common occurrence from the dust clouds. A small announcement was the only sign of the shutdown. The structures protecting the base could generate and store energy. Every fabric tile was an independent source and store of power. They had efficiencies of 80%. The Light patches on the cloth doubled up as displays and had an optical efficiency of >99%. Just like the tables; as soon as you connected a device to the wall; it came online. Windows were generated in real time through all the walls. Skylight, windows into the dust storm or the beautiful night sky were all just a wish away.

Outside the equatorial base, construction of an elevator to space was going on in full swing. The structure was built using ropes imported from earth on the Obava class vessels. The new vehicles could get into space in a single stage. Refueled in the Neeru depots powered by cells that rapidly broke down water into Hydrogen fuel and Oxygen. These were cryo-cooled by massive heat sinks facing the cold side of space. Water for the depots came from moon rocks and dust filtered with Nano filters. The fully fueled vessel hurtled towards Mars boosted by their water thrusters. The rocket unfurled a massive 10km sail that weighed just 100kilos. It generated large amounts of electricity that were channeled through hair sized wires that could withstand gun shots. The space craft was equipped with weapon systems to smartly detect and eliminate meteorites and targets using a compact Electromagnetic coil made of the same wires in the solar sail. The compact, accurate guns packed a punch. They had already revolutionized warfare and reduced human fatalities from gunshots to zero. The built in AI and powerful algorithms coupled with Realtime decision making had saved millions back on Earth.  

All these advances had one common thread. Nay! one common tube; A Carbon Nanotube. The incredible material had been discovered in starlight. An equivalent did not exist and so researchers set about finding ways to create a material that replicated star light. This led to the creation of HiPCO – a technology that produced tubes that were 200000x smaller than hair. The process was complex for 20th century and was difficult to master. The process would have been abandoned if not for the grit of an obscure company in Bangalore; NoPo Nanotechnologies. NoPo’s founders were driven by a desire to enable humanity to be a space faring species. This vision required creation of technologies to produce copious quantities of Carbon Nanotubes. Fortuitous accidents, the right people, and a seemingly unstoppable desire conquered challenges which were thought to be impossible.

NoPo developed the first Nanotubes and doggedly pursued applications. The first property to be leveraged was water transportation through the Nanotubes. Tubes of a small diameter have the ability to filter water about 100x better than incumbent technologies of 2021. The filters solved Earth’s looming water crisis and created a dependable technology to water extraction on any celestial without fear of contamination. The membranes led to development of aligned tubular strcutures that exhibit sensing capabilities. These were used to release a line of smart products based on CENCE – A Carbon Nanotube enhanced composite. CENCE evolved into sensing structures. The backbone of all space structures.

CENCE evolved into a multi-functional material with high strength, sensing and other capabilities. High strength was achieved by cross linking Nanotubes. These evolved conductive materials became the backbone of Brain Computer interfaces. Carbon was fully compatible with human body and the high-speed channels offered gave enhanced capabilities to humans.

Electronics made with Nanotubes produce little to no heat. More complex computations were done without breaking a sweat. 3D structures helped pack even more transistors than ever thought possible.

The metallic Nanotubes along with their semiconducting nanotubes were used to create reconfigurable Carbon Nanotube antennas that could form a charger in real-time. This became the defacto standard for charging devices on the go. All one had to do was lay down the phone on a table and in seconds it spoke to the table understood how much charge was needed and received packets of energy all without a user intervention.

Water needs an energy of 1.5eV to be broken down. That’s like the energy of blue light! Theoretically all the water should be broken down if this were true; however, thanks to its ability to be transparent; we have oceans of water. This Photolysis of water can occur if we can provide a surface on which to break down water. It turns out Nanotubes offer the perfect surface. Especially when made with Semiconducting Carbon Nanotubes. This enabled Hydrogen economies to suddenly make an appearance. In orbital depots, the Nanotube based structures enabled rapid generation of fuel on Orbital depots while solving storage issues by storing the same as Water.

The same structures were excellent absorbers of sunlight at various wavelengths. All it needed was different diameters of tubes. Vertically aligned rectennas embedded inside the water membranes functioned to absorb light directly as a wave. This led to Rectennas whose performance was beyond any cell designed. The Nanotube rectenna cells ultimately became the de-facto standard on Earth systems.

The coming together of all these technologies in a short span of a decade changed humanity unlike any event in history. Suddenly all the systems required to conquer space were readily available. The final straw was the announcement of the Sub-Orbital flights of the Akkamaha class of SSTO built using CENCE. The first Single Stage to Orbit vehicle flown by anyone. Fiction suddenly became a reality. Every quarter the payload doubled while costs stayed the same. Each flight reduced cost of the next payload. The unique saucer shapes provided excellent control and a large surface area during re-entry. Evolving designs, improved technologies and a team that trusted each other with their lives created an exciting, hopeful future.

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