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This Planet is a series of short video stories that draw on the best new videos, awesome graphics, and surprising facts about climate, energy and innovation.

Threshold of the Graphene Era

This Planet Chronicle

Threshold of the Graphene Era

Evelyn Messinger

Our This Planet video episode Bunny, Billionaire & Pencil starts with Elon Musk. Every age has its genius and Musk could be ours. A millionaire in his 20's and billionaire in his 30's, Musk is a serial tech entrepreneur who seems less interested in money than in his fixations with cars, rocket ships and alternative energy.

Musk attracted lots of attention last summer by "open sourcing" all the battery patents at his electric car company, Tesla Motors. In this interview with MSNBC's Chris Hayes, Musk says that Tesla has too big a lead on other car companies, because "if Tesla succeeds, but the climate is destroyed, I'm not sure that actually helps Tesla."

 

So Musk wants other car companies to catch up in order to save this planet?

Not so fast, say plenty of commentators, including those at the online economic policy discussion series  The Lip, which we used in our video. Not pure altruism but pure genius, because Tesla's rival isn't another electric car company, it's the gas guzzlers.

Enough about Elon Musk! Except that he is also the founder of Solar City, which will sell or rent you solar panels, as well as a way to store the power they generate...and yes, that means batteries.

And batteries are what we care about, because improving batteries means cheaper and more effective use of renewable energy. So we get to the part about the pencil. If every age has its genius, it also has its key material. There was the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. We are living in the Silicon Age. Tomorrow: the Age of graphene Although our interest in graphine is all about batteries, please allow a brief digression: 

  Graphene is simply a single sheet of graphite, a form of carbon that is the source of pencil "lead" - one of the most common materials on this planet.

 

Graphene is simply a single sheet of graphite, a form of carbon that is the source of pencil "lead" - one of the most common materials on this planet.

Graphene is pure carbon in the form of a very thin, nearly transparent sheet, one atom thick. It wasn't even discovered until 2004, though it had been theorized for a long time. The discovery won the Nobel Prize in 2007. The amazing properties of graphene are what make it special:

remarkably strong for its very low weight (100 times stronger than steel) and it conducts heat and electricity with great efficiency

The heat and electricity conducting properties of graphine are what make it such a potentially great battery material. But manufacturing graphine cheaply was a problem, until this very cool discovery (also excerpted in our video) by scientists at UCLA:

 

The graphene field is really taking off. To keep up, follow this list from Vanderbilt University, where some of the best research is taking place. Like this idea, to build energy storage right into solar panels by incorporating a layer of graphene between the layers of silicon.

Click the image to read about it

Click the image to read about it

Solar power and efficient batteries united at last...are you listening Elon Musk? We think you are...

And finally, let's talk about the bunny. What's he doing in this story? You will just have to watch to find that out.

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