NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The carbon energy cycle is killing your grandchildren. But could carbon also form part of the cure?There are reasons to believe it can. New forms of carbon are coming into industrial production for a host of properties -- low weight, tensile strength, electrical conductivity -- that green energy production is looking for right now. Three main types of carbon are under discussion:
- Carbon fiber, literally a thread of carbon bonded in crystals aligned along the long end of the fiber. It's sometimes called graphite fiber or carbon graphite. Carbon nanotubes, huge molecules arranged like a tube with carbon atoms interlocked in a hexagonal frame; and Graphene, the same frame laid in a single plane.
Kozarsky is highest on a Lockheed-Martin ( LMT) subsidiary called
Applied Nanostructured Solutions , which grows nanotubes onto reinforcing fiber for use in aerospace, and is working with Owens Corning ( OC) on next-generation composites. Scientists see carbon nanotubes as being at the heart of new solar cells, writes The9billion.com , as components in desalinization systems, as described by the New Jersey Institute of Technology , and useful in electronic parts, as MIT reports, , but most of these applications are years away from industrial-scale production, says Kozarsky. The industry's problem, Kozarsky feels, is that it focused on production ahead of application. That's a mistake he hopes the graphene industry can avoid. Think of graphene as a single-sheet nanotube. Discovered by English researchers in 2004, the BBC notes , it holds promise as an electrode or semiconductors, possibly replacing silicon. The big green promise here lies in batteries, Kozarsky said. It's easily dispersed in a polymer, meaning it can be turned into useful products on an industrial scale fairly easily. "A lot of the applications will be similar," he admits, but if graphene advocates focus on applications instead of supply they will do better in the long run. Focusing on carbon in terms of coal and oil, burning both to produce carbon dioxide or expelling even more dangerous compounds like methane into the open air, is giving carbon a bad name. The new carbon structures are a fast-growing industry that will restore its good name. At the time of publication, the author had a position in GE. Follow @DanaBlankenhorn This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.