Making Stuff… cleaner

Carbon, an element that makes up all living creatures, is the single greatest concern for environmental impact. Since the rise of the automobile, gasoline has been releasing carbon dioxide and other noxious gasses into the atmosphere. Fortunately, the future of automobiles lies within hydrogen and electric batteries. Making Stuff, a mini-series produced by NOVA, concentrates on making stuff stronger, cleaner, smaller, and smarter.

This mini-series was produced by the Materials Research Society and is currently being shown weekly by the CSM Materials Department. This week’s episode was about how we as humans depend upon items like oil and coal and how their by-products can actually be used to make beneficial items or even reproduce energy for houses. Some notable topics to mention are converting old trash bags into carbon nano-tubes or that some of the fastest electric motorcycles are owned and produced by a family right here in Denver.

This episode described how a hydrogen fuel cell works and how an electric car works. An interesting fact is that electric cars were actually first produced in the 1920s and Manhattan Island had working electric fueling stations. The downside was the fact that only rich people could afford such cars. Modern electric cars, though pricey, are more affordable than ever before. Interestingly enough, people viewed the automobile as the savior of horses. In New York in the early twentieth century, horses were literally worked to death. When a horse died, it would be left in the streets and the living horses left all of their manure in the streets, creating a terrible odor. The automobile, just ejected a little gas instead of that terrible smell of horse feces. This serves to illustrate that people will always find something to complain about.

Another amazing piece of technology at work showcased by the show is converting plastic bags into carbon nano-tubes. Simply put, a plastic bag that has been cut into strips is placed into a machine that separates out all elements except for carbon. The product looks like simple black powder, when in reality it is actually small carbon nano-tubes. Nano-tubes have many functions including bicycle parts, a chemical bonding epoxy, and structural support. This excludes mention of the possible applications in circuits, batteries, solar cells, and ultra capacitors.

The final topic of discussion in the episode was converting regular household trash into useable power. The art of incinerating trash for fuel is nothing new for society, and it may seem a bit archaic, but at sufficiently high temperatures, all bad products of incineration are actually destroyed. This allows for a cleaner form of energy than incineration and it also prevents landfills or dumps from accumulating more trash. Another great fact about this form of energy production is that anything that cannot be recycled can be used to power houses, office buildings, or any place that requires power.

In summary, a symbiotic relationship being carbon dioxide producers and carbon dioxide consumers can be created. The easiest way to start is to find ways to not produce new amounts of carbon, but to reuse what is already available.

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