Materials scientist vs. Climate change.

Article by Isabel Key and Mina Frost.

Materials science is the study of how the structure and composition of solid materials determine their properties [1]. It answers questions like ‘why is a metal hard?’ Or more interestingly, ‘how can we make new, more useful materials?’ There are many ways in which improving materials can help fight climate change [2], for example:

Better batteries: we need these for electric cars [15], and for storing energy produced by wind and solar power (which generate energy when the wind blows or the sun shines, rather than necessarily when we want to use it) [16]. Most batteries are made from lithium, but there is concern that we will run out of this metal within a few decades [2,17]. Materials scientists are working to create batteries from alternative materials as well as making them cheaper and more efficient [2,18,19].

Long-distance energy transmission: since some parts of the world are better suited to producing renewable energy [4], we need an affordable way of transmitting energy long distances underground from where it’s produced to where it is used [2]. It is thought that special materials called superconductors (which transmit electricity with no resistance [3]) would be ideal for this, but they would need to be cooled to a very low temperature and are made from rare-earth metals that are in short supply [2]. Materials scientists are therefore trying to find alternative materials [2].

There are many other aspects of material science that are important in the climate crisis, such as cheaper, more efficient and safer nuclear power [8,9], better materials for making cement [2] (cement production is currently responsible for about ~8% of global CO2 emissions [11]), bio-based chemicals and materials to replace those made from fossil fuels [2], light-weight materials for vehicles [10], and much more [2].

References

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