February 25th, 2012
Robert Gonzalez from io9 is skeptical about the promotional claim made by Obayashi that they want to build a Space Elevator by 2050. While I indicated in my own post on the matter that I thought the Obayashi story was “more concept than engineering“, I’m not as skeptical as he is about the final end-product…
Mr. Gonzalez writes that “Getting carbon nanotubes into this ribbon configuration is a significant technical hurdle“. Actually, the Japanese solved that particular problem a few years ago. The Japanese entry (from Shizuoka University) in the 2009 Strong Tether competition WAS in a “ribbon configuration”. In my post on the matter, I noted that the Shizuoka entry looked “like a tape from an old VCR Cassette”. It wasn’t strong enough, of course, but it was in the ribbon configuration.
But let’s assume that Mr. Gonzalez was referring to the actual specific strength of the tether, not it’s configuration, and there, surely, we do have a long way to go. But progress is being made. At the University of Cincinnati CNT Workshop held in October of last year, I saw, for the first time, a heavy emphasis on the potential specific strength properties of CNTs. In previous year’s workshops, speakers had talked about using CNTs in electrical devices, or combined with ceramics to make unique materials, or used in medical devices, etc., but very little about making “long, strong tethers”. This has changed - at least half of the speakers in the 2011 Workshop talked about work they were doing, and problems they were running into, in exploiting the specific strength properties of CNTs. And, a second possible material has come onto the scene - Boron Nitride nanotubes (BNNTs). This material, while not naturally occurring in nature, is fairly easily synthesized and it seems to have nearly the same potential specific strength properties that CNTs do.
You know, I really need to put up a post about that workshop - it was very informative and very encouraging…
And finally, lets not forget the fact that this is the Japanese. Their corporations tend to have a longer-term outlook than many others do. And Obayashi is a MAJOR company in Japan - lots of bucks, er yen, to potentially put into a project like this.
So, I’m not putting the champagne on ice yet, but I think there is a reasonable chance that this is more than just a pipe-dream.
(Picture thumbnail is of the entry into the 2009 Strong Tether competition from Shizuoka University. Click on it to see a full-size version of the picture.)