Two reviewers of my near-future science fiction thriller series recently criticised the plot claiming that the premise behind the story was “far-fetched”. All seven books contain a thread regarding the discovery of a mineral that can multiply energy. Although I gave it a suitably sci-fi sounding name, it was actually based on a scientific paper published in Nano Letters in 2015 by JC Johannsen and colleagues.
These respected scientists wrote extensively about their promising findings using ‘doped’ graphene. The term doping, in a chemical sense, simply means to add or subtract electrons at a molecular level. Using a complex laser system and an equally convoluted detection platform, Johannsen found that for every photon which hit a specific region of the doped graphene, two electrons were excited enough to create a charge.
Now, of course, we are talking about tiny fractions of barely detectable energy at this stage, but imagine if they can find a way to scale this for use in everyday applications. Graphene is cheap, relatively easy to produce and is made of pure carbon, an abundant natural element.
Those scientists are already making plans to develop high efficiency photovoltaic solar cells. It is surely not too much of a leap to stack multiple layers of graphene in order to exponentially multiply a tiny stream of photons into a vast amount of electricity?
The notion of truly clean, green and inexhaustible supplies of electricity is more than exciting, it’s revolutionary.
I’m not the only person who sees this discovery as a global game-changer. Collaborations between a great many photonic experts, engineers, particle physicists, chemists, and more, are now racing to make this hypothesis a reality. Prestigious departments from the likes of Aarhus University, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, the Universitat Erlangen Nurnberg, and the University of St. Andrews, to name a few, are all working on related projects.
Just think what this would mean for our future.
We could have extreme light conversion to electricity with next to no ambient energy loss. It would revolutionise travel, negate the need for dirty and dangerous fossil fuels and nuclear power plants, allow for year-round intensive food production at minimal cost, provide every rural settlement with unlimited power, drastically reduce pollution and carbon emissions and so much more. One small roof-mounted graphene panel attached to a night time battery could render the need for national grids redundant.
With lofty ambitions such as these, it’s not difficult to see where this might cause conflict. Our world is driven by the profits of corporate entities or by governments keeping tight control over oil and fossil fuel mineral wealth. Economies succeed or fail based on the cost of a barrel of black gold.
Why would they bother investing in a limitless and clean future for all, when it can be suppressed or monetised for a few of the wealthiest and most power-crazed capitalists in the world? What incentives would they have to bring about an era where the only use for oil is in the production of a few plastic and paint-related products, most of which could be replaced with biodegradable alternatives?
I would like to think that even faceless petrochemical corporations have an altruistic streak, but I’d be naïve to believe that they will sit idly by and watch a century-old industry crumble around their ears. These are the multinationals with powerful and ruthless directors and executives who fiercely protect their assets and wealth.
Is my plot far-fetched? Perhaps, but I’m probably not alone in thinking that it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that these brave and noble scientists may suddenly go missing, or worse. I sincerely hope that those scientists leading us out of a world in energy and pollution crises keep their research and their personal safety at the very top of their priority list.
Now more than ever, we need their work to reverse the damage we have done to this planet, and guide us into a graphene powered bright future, filled with possibility.