103: Bringing Sexy Back… in a small way – Carbon Nanotubes

Matt and Sean talk about a very small technology that requires big brains to understand.

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “Revisiting How Carbon Nanotubes Will Change Renewable Energy”: https://youtu.be/QEAmTvan0EU?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi55IJwXkqPkgtq03bgQDNoH

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Hi everybody welcome to the still to be determined podcast as usual, this is the podcast that follows up on topics from the Youtube channel undecided with Matt Ferrell and as usual I am not Matt Ferrell I am Sean Ferrell I am Matt’s older brother I’m a writer with me of course is Matt Matt how are you doing today I’m doing okay, it’s a cold and lazy Sunday here in New York City and I’m just realizing how I want to slip into hibernation mode. So wish me luck on staying awake during our conversation.
I’m doing good How about you.
Yeah, me too.
Today we’re gonna be talking about Matt’s most recent episode which was revisiting how carbon nanotubes will change renewable energy and this episode dropped on January Eleventh Twenty Twenty two before we get into that just a quick reminder. You can support the podcast just by watching just by listening. Or by going to still tbd fm. There’s a link there that allows you to support us directly or on Youtube you can go to the membership button which is a join button right? below the video whichever way you’re able to support us. We appreciate the help it all does help the channel. So Matt Nanotubes back again Tita the etheavm the right out of the gate your video starts with we’re still waiting. So.
1 of the things that occurred to me is if you were a betting man. What’s the the over under on the number of years. It might take for this to suddenly be like oh it’s being used. It’s happening and then my follow-up question is what does it’s happening. It’s being used.
Yes, oh God What are you gonna ask me.
Look like to you.
Okay, ah I don’t I don’t want to I okay I would probably say if you put a gun to my head and said you have to pick I’d price say five to 10 years and part of the reason I’d say five to 10 years is it’s still early days. The manufacturing process is the biggest hold up. It’s easy to prove an idea in a lab. It’s very difficult to take it from that stage into like a pilot stage and from there into a we’re going to produce gobs of the stuff for the entire world perfectly every single time with very little waste. That’s hard and so it’s like That’s why I think five to ten years we’ll start seeing this in more of a meaningful way and in a meaningful way. It’s like a battery that is using carbon nanotubes or new wiring that is using carbon nanotubes that starts being put into people’s homes or grids. Ah. Ah, you start seeing it showing up in these solar panels that I talked about like here’s the first solar panel that uses this technology that captures the heat that’s generated from the sun as well as the the rays so. It’s kind of doubling down on how much electricity can generate so that’s what I mean by meaningful when I talk about meaningful. Not some like when you’re talking about graphene. It’s like some random company came out with headphones that are graphene headphones. It’s like no, that’s not a meaningful use of graphene that’s just cashing in on the name and it’s that’s it. It’s like it’s gonna it’s gonna be five to ten years would be my guess.
Yeah, right.
And I don’t recall seeing what the costs are associated with production of this I know that at this point it’s got to be astronomical. It’s got to be. It’s going to be very expensive and you talked about the one company that produces graphene.
It’s gonna be very expensive. Yeah.
That is they’ve effectively been able to a Thousandfold improve their output which means that instead of a gram they’re making a kilogram. Obviously that’s not going to feed the world. Um.
But this stuff is very light. The other thing.
A little goes a long way understandably, especially considering. It’s the envisioned uses being wiring and you know extremely extremely thin hair hair wide filaments which. If we were to start seeing those things being introduced as you point out solar panels that incorporate these there is the even fabric. So I Guess the just to be clear about what we mean by the fabric we mean fabric that could potentially do what like. You could be. You could have a tent that has effectively solar power generation ability or maybe clothing where your phone could be plugged into something in your pocket and it could be charging while you’re walking around outside that sort of thing.
Um, yeah to put on your sci-fi hat a little bit. It’s it’s kind of like imagine sportswear that has these fibers woven into it along with sensors that could take the athlete’s temperature heart rate all those kind of things and it’s actually being powered by the athlete’s own. Body heat. So it’s like that’s kind of 1 potential path. You could go down with this.
So maybe a sleeve that they put on you in the hospital and it’s monitoring your vitals while you’re wearing it and you are also what is powering it that sort of thing.
You could also be powering but be very very low power kind of stuff. Um, but that same basic principle of how that would work can also be applied to I talked about it in the video but like you could apply it to summit conductors or electronics because heat control is one of the problems with electronics so you could. Integrate this into some kind of like heat transfer so that you could pull the heat off of the the processor to help keep it cool and then you’re reusing that energy to help even power the device itself. So It’s like it could help to mitigate how much power a device needs to get from an outside source. There’s all these different ways you can use it. It’s kind of like you’re a writer. It’s like it’s like your your mind can start spinning about all the possibilities but actually making those reality is the part where it’s like you have to keep your expectations in check and for like rice University they’re showing that this kind of stuff can absolutely work with solar panels like they’re they’re proving It can. And so now it’s just a matter of can this actually be integrated into a company’s production line and can they make it a reality.
Right? One of the things your video got me wondering about it is have rice researches figured out yet. How to grow rice outside of patty. But that’s a conversation for another video. Connected to the cost issue. There was this question that popped into my head as I was watching this It’s the potential is fantastic for as you mentioned solar panel efficiency improvements. Being able to increase efficiency was it by 80 % or two eighty percent okay um clearly that’s an incredible number compared to the panels that are currently available.
It to 80% yeah
I Wondered would this immediately create a situation where you’d have multiple tiers of panels with a very high end that would only be available because of cost to a select few or do you envision. This being something that current solar panel usage would jump at because of the efficiency numbers being so high compared to current panels. In other words, if a. Power company is putting out a solar panel farm and tomorrow they found out that oh there’s this new Panel. Do You think that a company would regardless of cost immediately switch over to that newer panel just because of the 80% or do you think this would be the sort of thing where there would have to be a. A person who would be pushing out multiple levels of product with the hope of being able to push the cost of the higher level down eventually to become more widely widely consumed.
It’s gonna be that it’s going to come out at an expensive high tier that very few people would want to take a risk on especially when you’re talking about commercial scale installations. They’re not going to want to jump at this until they can prove that the return on investment is there. So. Going to be very high for kind of an elite crew and then it will slowly the price will come down as the manufacturing gets better and better and better and cheaper and cheaper and cheaper. But it’s like pretty much any technology there. There’ll be a trickle down in that technology as it comes through and 1 thing to point out is there already is tiers in solar panels today. It’s like the solar panels that are put on satellites that like. Nasa is shooting into through through the galaxy those things are crazy efficient. They’re like really efficient. They’re using those 50% efficiency panel kind of things they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make and so that’s why you don’t see those on my house because they’re crazy expensive. No.
I was just going to ask are they on your house. Yeah, but but no, okay.
I Wish they were but it’s like it’s it’s possible to do this kind of stuff. It’s just crazy expensive and until the manufacturing becomes perfected to do it a a better cost. It’ll never come into the mainstream. So that’s the biggest challenge for carbon nanoubbes until they can get the cost down. It’ll never become become a mainstream product.
And some of the research that you described, especially the research at Rice University there were obvious government including department of defense grants being used to create this. How much of a concern is there that there will be a point where this will not become publicly available would this be something that could effectively be used in a way that somebody might say well this is this has become government property at this point that this is. You know, being used in a way that in order to maintain. It’s happened in the past it goes back. You know, fifty or sixty years but there have been patents that have been held by the government out of a sense of like we need to control this because this is too destabilizing or this is too risky.
Yeah, it’s It’s not even that far in the past in the solid hydrogen video I did about Plasma Kinetics they were in that situation just like a decade ago. Their patents were held by the by the um, the military as being like too dangerous to.
2 to use.
Lease out or they thought they wanted it for themselves and so the patent was put on a list that it couldn’t actually be patented by the company because they didn’t want to let it get out there so it took a lot of fighting to get it released and the program that was doing that was called I think the acronym was saws. It’s now defunct that. Program doesn’t exist. So It’s harder for the government to do to them to do to others what they did to them. Um, so it is a risk but with solar Panels I Don’t think that would happen I Really don’t There’s not like it’s not a technology that can be warped for some kind of.
There’s not a solar panel race between us and the soviets is yeah yet.
Right? And there’s not some solar panel Ray Gunn you know what? I mean it’s like it’s not like it’s going to be yeah I know but it’s like you can understand why a military would want to invest in this because imagine putting this on your humvees in your tanks and you know you have pop-up military bases that have these small. Crazy efficient panels that can power that little facility so it reduces the need for supply lines.
Yeah, or even an individual even an individual soldier with a solar panel built into a backpack that allows them to power whatever computer device they need to use.
Right? right? So you can understand why they want to do it but I don’t think they would patent that into ah a black hole that would never get to the public they would get it first obviously and then it would probably trickle out a lot of the technologies we take advantage for of today like Gps that was. Ah, government military thing that was put out there now. Everybody uses Gps so this kind of stuff would eventually trickle out but it might slow it down which is which would be a concern.
Yeah, in my head now I I can hear the Siri voice directing an army to veer left at the next turn. So if there was a multi-tierer ah market for. Something like a solar panel What do you think the top tier would look like ignoring Nasa’s needs and Nasa’s willingness to spend here’s a million dollars worth of solar panels on this one satellite ignoring them who do you think the market is.
I would look to as an analogy the car market. It’s like think about luxury cars I would probably be looking at luxury roofing solar roofing so look at the Tesla solar roof look at there’s there’s a whole bunch of companies like solarroof se there’s.
Is looking at those.
These companies are coming out with different solar tile technologies that look like shingles and stuff like that I could totally see companies like that that are serving a high-end market anyway, leaning into this a little bit because then it can trickle down because the people that can afford to buy that will buy it because it’s the newest latest best and it’s going to be crazy efficient. I could see companies like that make highend solar panels like you’re talking about like Lg. They could have a tier of just regular solar panels for residential homes that are just crazy efficient. They may not be big sellers but they could be so helping that high end market I think thiss most likely where it would start um and then. Once they got to a scale they might get to a point where then it hits commercial because then you’d be hitting large commercial installations where it’s like a solar farm that might do one Megawatt can suddenly be producing two Megawatts and if the cost isn’t crazy high. They could see that return on investment. So I think that’s most likely the way it would work. Kind of an expensive residential then commercial and then it would trickle down to more of a broad so broad market.
And I’m wondering now about those solar farms that already exist they’ve gone. You know we see them popping up more and more lately I would say the first times I started seeing them driving on the highway started seeing solar farms within the past five years
They’re all over now. Yeah.
Didn’t notice them didn’t didn’t notice them in my in my driving which is limited but didn’t notice them in the roots I take until about five years ago and so I’m wondering. Let’s assume that solar panel farms 5 to 10 years old at this point. How long are those panels potentially going to last.
People can correct me if I get this wrong but from my understanding for the people I’ve talked to commercial solar farms change their panels out fairly frequently. They don’t wait 20 years to change them out. They might be changing them out after 8 years or 10 years Um, and it’s not because they’re broken. It’s because they’re trying to hit a certain level of max efficiency for return investment as well as you know, making sure that everything is operating smoothly so they do a constant turnover and because they do that. There’s actually a huge market for buying used panels from commercial installations dirt cheap.
Max Eff Efficiency Max efficiency right.
Like Ricky Roy from 2 bit da vinci. He did that in his previous house. That’s how he got his. They were commercial panels that were sold off and their performance was great. One of my patrons is doing the same thing. He’s building out a small little kind of like tiny house from a trailer and he bought dirt sheep. Use panels that were like forty five bucks ah a panel or something like that it was like crazy cheap. So there’s a market for it because they change them out so much and the panels are still good. They just have slight degradation or maybe a tiny crack in the corner but doesn’t impact performance. So there’s a constant turnover in.
Okay, so that was my question then about like if a new entry into the market included something like this tech and you had these panels out there that are on these farms I wondered at what.
And facilities like that. Yeah.
At what pace if a company decided they we’re going to switch over what that would look like so it seems like it could actually be fairly fast if 5 years from now a panel was introduced and it economically made sense that within five or ten years a solar panel farm could be one ah hundred percent transitioned into that newer that newer more efficient panel.
That you might see a couple rows changed then you know a year later a few more rows are now in this new panel. So it’s like they’re going to be changing the mountain in a cycle. So it’s you’d see in the next five to 10 years. All these kind of things slowly transitioning to these more efficient panels pretty quickly.
Onto some listener comments that I caught my eye like this one from Nolan who wrote graphene wires as a copper alternative would be a huge breakthrough these steps bring us closer to carbon based electrics which open up so many new avenues and. I know that from your video one of the things about conductivity is the inclusion of a metal in the production so that you end up with the metal incorporated into the nanotube so would a copper alternative. Necessarily have to be copper or are they looking at other metals that end up with the same sort of conductivity as copper itself.
In the labs I believe they’re looking at all kinds of metals for this. But I think you’d most likely still see Copper going forward at least short term.
Right? And if that was happening that means that Copper would be still being used but less of it would be used per filament than normal copper wiring.
Possibly Yes, which is a good thing because Copper is crazy expensive right now and it’s like people who are building new homes sometimes will find their wiring ripped out because it’s it’s worth a lot of money so it’s finding alternatives that are as as performant or better. It’s going to happen.
Um, yeah.
It’s me.
Um, there was also this from who who ya fish which who ya fish I like the name especially given the somewhat pessimistic comment of who yeah I’ve literally been waiting for graphene to take over the world for 12 years excuse me if I’m not more excited. So. 12 years from now you are asked you earlier if you were a betting man and you gave a 5 to 10 year window but 12 years from now to take who he has time frame that he has been waiting. Do you think who? yeah. Will be in a place where he will be saying. Finally, it’s here or do you think it’s going to be 1 of those things that you talk about all too often in your channel which are there are invisible changes happening behind you and as they step into place. You don’t even really feel it.
Yep, that’s what’s I think it’s gonna be more of that I don’t think it’s gonna be like carbonno tubes are everywhere. It’s going to be more of a.
So I’m not going to walk out of my carbon tube house and get in my carbon tube car and drive on a carbon tube bridge.
Ah, no, no, you’re Goingnna see the solar panel farm and it’s gonna have panels that have carbon nanotubbees in it. But you don’t even know you’re just like oh there’s a solar panel. So it’s gonna be 1 of those It’s this gonna be in the background and it’s not You’re not gonna be really aware of it that much but if you look into it. You’re gonna be like wow there are quite a few products out there that have. Graphene or carbon antinotubes in them and I think it’s going to kind of catch you by surprise at some point but it’s it’s not going to like be pervasive. It’s not going to be like like I mentioned those graphene headphones. You’re not going to be seeing graphene on the labels of everything.
Um, I actually think we will I think we will I don’t think it will necessarily mean there’s actually graphene in the product. But I think we will see Graphene used in marketing as it’ll be the yeah.
I Don’t think that’s going what’s going to be happening.
There? Yes, yes yes, it’ll be in the marketing but it’s not going to be real. That’s why I say meaningful a meaningful use of the product. Not a marketing use.
The rca graphene 3000 television screen coming to your home and it’s not going to actually incorporate graphene in any meaningful way that I think will happen.
Right? Okay, that’s fair I’ll agree with that.
Yeah, so I guess at a certain level who yeah, you might be waiting for just really good marketing to feel like you’ve finally reached that promise land. But I guess does that lack of and you’ve. You’ve done a lot of videos around a lot of different types of tech and you’ve and you’ve looked at a lot of different industries does that lack of a splashy obvious hook hold back the funding that could go into research like I’m thinking in terms of like.
Um, it’s a double edge right.
Battery research Elon Musk has had his hand on the throttle by simply saying I am I am choosing to change the way cars are made I am choosing to to do this and driving an industry forward. At a much faster pace simply because he has put so much energy and money into something that does have a splashy hook look here’s a car you can see it on the street you can get in and you can drive it and it’s different from all these other cars and that’s got an obvious hook. Solar panels are not that sexy hook nobody is out there saying did you see that black rectangle look how much sexier it is than this other black rectangle. So I’m wondering does that impede interest in those investors who might venture capitalists.
Is there something that an industry is it really Beholden now to the the number crunching inside ah of different industries to say Oh yeah, this panel would actually help save us 15% So it’s worth it. So we’ll put money into that as opposed to. Ah, sexy public hook.
I Don’t think a sexy public hook is going to hold a lot of this stuff back because there’s behind the scenes. There’s like public sexiness and there’s like behind the scenes sexiness gets you could say right? correct.
Yeah I Guess what’s sexy to ah, a cfo at a company is gonna be very different from what’s going to be sexy to a consumer.
Right in general though if you’re talking about renewable energy sustainable technologies that entire space is kind of sexy right now because the climate change and there’s a huge drive to get up fossil fuels and so it’s like there’s an insane amount of investment and research going into all of this stuff right now. I don’t think carbonannotutes would have a problem making that sales pitch publicly or privately at this point but there’s a double edged sword of like a lot of times universities researchers whatever it is fall into a trap of overhyping to get the finding and then that Overhype gets caught by the press and that comes.
Very public. The public gets super excited. 2 years pass and people are going where’ my flying car and so it’s like there’s this double edgeged sword to that hype like you know, carbon nanotues graphene had that huge surge of hype and we’ve now kind of come off that crest but it’s still happening. It’s still important. But it’s not splashy anymore. So it’s that’s where I closed out my video saying I think the lack of hype around this is actually a good thing because it’s got us into a more realistic expectation but there’s a potential that this could ramp back up and the hype could get out of control again like we’re in an analogy would be fusion. Energy isn’t a hype cycle right now. Like and seeing amount of funding. Everybody’s like we’ve solved it. We’re gonna have fusion energy that makes it sound like it’s 5 years away. It’s like no, it’s not 5 years away but they’re right. It’s like there’s incredible progress but it’s getting over hyped calm it down. Um, it’s it’s it’s one of those things so it’s like it comes in cycles. So like.
Where we’re going. We don’t need roads and yeah.
This right now. The cycle is on the low side because people got burned out from the hype ten years ago but it’s actually still happening so that’s kind of where I was saying the public sexiness isn’t as important because it’s still actually happening.
Yeah, you’re talking a little bit. It sounds like you’re touching on on effectively Microtech bubbles bubbles within each within each little Avenue of the bigger tech industry as opposed to the do you know like the dot Com bubble that was very specific to.
Yeah, yeah.
The internet as people who did not know internet suddenly said internet and put money in internet that make me money and then when that all fell apart and everybody stood there scratching their heads. It’s like well yeah, having http://a.com doesn’t mean you have a business you did yes I remember I remember you.
I worked in that bubble that was that that was not pleasant when that bubble burst it was unpleasant.
You Ah weather in the storm as best you could, but it being a storm nonetheless.
Yeah, oh another round of layoffs. This is gonna be fun.
So to our listeners I ask you? We talked about the the sexiness of the products the idea of hype and the bubble nature of some of these different texts that Matt talks about is channel and I’m wondering from all of you. Do you believe the hype and not just about this product but about any of the things. He’s talked about recently. Do you think that you see an overhyped conversation going on in the public sphere or do you think that things are kind of like coasting under the radar. Let us know whether you are yourself. Excited about this or that or if you think that certain of these things are a little too promoted or underappreciated. Let us know in the comments you can go directly below this video on Youtube and leave a comment there and if you’re listening to us through a podcast provider. You can go to the contact information in the podcast description. And reach out to us that way and a reminder you can go to still Tb need restart that reminder you can go to still tbd dot fm and there’s a support that podcast link there that you can follow to support us directly. Wow me, try that one one more time. A reminder you can go to still tbd dot fm and there’s a support the podcast link there that will allow you to support us directly or on Youtube you can just press the join button and become a member on Youtube both those ways are great ways to support us. But if you can’t do either of those we appreciate you listening we appreciate you commenting reviewing and sharing with your friends all of that really does help the podcast. The podcast helps the channel the channel helps Matthew and then Matthew helps me bring the sexy back. We’ll talk to you next time everybody thanks so much for listening.
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