In a follow-up a month later Badding told ENR the space elevator comment has captured the attention of the popular press, but he has not been contacted by any of the several groups around the world currently working on it.
“Our work is very early stage,” he said. “The space elevator mention was made just to dramatize the fact that the diamond nanothreads are predicted to have strength that is enough for such an elevator.” He said there are other carbon nanomaterial candidates as well.
“No one has yet solved the problem of making large quantities of these materials that are strong enough as long cables. We many never solve this problem with carbon nanotubes or diamond nanothreads, but in principle it is solvable and thus not just science fiction in my view.
“As for scale up, I can’t really say. There are formidable challenges. Certainly seems unlikely in the next 5 to 10 years. Decades? We’d have to learn to make these diamond nanothread materials in large quantities and make them long enough and get individual threads to bind to each other well enough.“
“The latter aspect is where diamond nanothreads might (and I emphasize might) have an advantage over conventional carbon nanotubes, in that chemical bonds between them may be easier to make. We’d also have to learn to reduce the (currently impractical) pressures used to make them. This seems a possibility to me.”
He says the first samples produced are, at most, “ a few hundred” nanometers long. One nm is equal to one billionth of a meter. “You can see we have a long, long way to go. Note the qualification “in our wildest dreams” in the press release,” he said.
In response to the question of whether the threads look like strings of diamonds, he said, “The appearance of diamond is very much dependent on how the diamond material is aggregated. Window glass looks very different from sand, yet the two are very similar materials. So our nanothreads, although they have the structure of diamond at the molecular level, look like a white mass so far. It is only at the level of atoms that their ‘diamond beauty’ is revealed.”
The Obayashi Corporation Plan
In February, 2012, Tokyo-based Obayashi Corporation announced its commitment to start building a space elevator by 2030, which it said would cost $100 billion and take 20 years to construct.
The pledge is supported by a 17-page paper outlining the construction concept. It notes that “the current technology levels are not yet sufficient to realize the concept, but our plan is realistic, and is a stepping-stone toward the construction of the space elevator.”