Carbon King fifty years ago

Traveler and Gizmo flew into the ranch and picked up one of the Carbonados. All the vehicles on the ranch were rigged for the outback including body cooling if required. They would head up mountain on 90 till it was washed out at about 1.6k elevation about 41.547071, -117.594068. They had a portable bridge and with the dual winches, hoped to be able to pick their way, but in the end they would be on foot. Bring water, lots of water. It wasn't 10 AM yet and the temp gauge was pushing 48°, it would be a bit better upland.

Gizmo loved roadtrips and was looking forward to this one with Traveler, there is no better way to really get to know someone than to travel with them he thought to himself. As they bumped along, he asked, "So this is where it all happened? How did you become the king of carbon anyway? They had lab created diamonds since forever, what drove you?"

Traveler smiled, waited his trademarked pause before answering and said, "I never wanted to be a farmer or rancher, but had to spend one summer on my father's ranch. I had never heard of Paradise Valley NV. Jeepers, that was only twenty years ago or so, but already temps were climbing above 50° C. Water was really scarce. It was sad, so many people bought lots, but the rainfall kept dropping and when it did, it seemed to always be a deluge, carving more potholes, taking out the bridges. BLM had so many cuts they couldn't maintain the roads. Lots of the land was all carved up into postage stamp pieces. We got a lot of it at foreclosure and such, but some of it was paid for, taxes up to date, just wasn't worth the owner's bother to even come look.

You could certainly tell the vehicle was moving uphill, both men knew that would burn battery fast. They had decided to stop for a while after the hairpin on Big Cottonwood. Adrian remembered there was a South facing spot that was ideal to lay out the charging fabric. If you are going up mountain, might was well pack a full charge.

Gizmo marveled at the quiet, no, there was sound, but it wasn't city sound. He tried his mindfulness meditation, but gave up, meditation, mindfulness and in the moment were not XXX's strong suits. Charge fabric was part of your lifeline in an inhab zone. It could also give you shade from the relentless sun. Even under the tent and off the ground, the temp was reading 41°, too hot for long term human survival. Keep drinking the electrolytes, if an hour goes by without peeing it is a bad sign. After the charge was all set up, the conversation renewed.

How much land are we talking about after your dad "uncarved" it?

Hard to say. At peak it was about a 1M hectares, much of it was purchased by paying the tax due and any cleanup after those ranches had failed. Some of it was disputed by first nation, daddy mostly stayed clear of that, no shortage of land, no need to argue over what was there and as it hot hotter, the interest diminished.

The summer my dad asked me to spend out here, cattle ranching was still marginally profitable with tropical breeds if there was enough water. The beef-processing plant was still open and I spent the summer on a fencing team. One of the observations that I had was the terrible condition of the fence posts. And a lot of the fencing was Class 1 galvanized, the cheap stuff, but in the desert it could still last 25 years, so a lot of it was planning. We would work it the morning and evening until dark and in the heat of the day, we would update CAD drawings using drones to update the maps. This became one of the most surveyed, mapped, useless pieces of land in the whole world.

We wanted to start running camels, but didn't want a repeat of Australia with wild camels running everywhere, so the cost of upgrading the fencing to make that possible compared to revenue from camel animal products, fat, meat, leather etc was a marginal tradeoff at best. That said, camels do well with both the hot and cold desert extremes. It was really worth thinking about.

So during the heat of the day, I would work or nap in the range tent and think about the challenge and day dream about fences.

Dude, that is is bit sick

Really? You try pulling Zephyr for eight hours a day for a summer and see what you dream about. Anyway, it wasn't like you just had to fence the perimeter 10k sq kilos there is internal fencing. And it is not flat ground, this was range and basin. Look around you.

So you were dreaming about a fence that would cost several times more than the land you would put it on.

Sure, but what it could pay its way? Carbon Dioxide contributes to climate change, a let of air blows by a fence. That doesn't equal money. But if the fence could contribute to sequestering CO2, could collect solar energy, could work as a weather station, an antenna, and contribute to making the property more valuable.

What drove me then. What drives me now. Carbon is not only readily available, but we know we need to sequester it, because it is killing us. So, I was trying to think of a carbon sink, something that would be useful and scale to billions of tonnes.

Fences are exposed and under stress. If I could develop a low cost building material for fencing, it would be useful for a variety of applications. Carbon fiber could be used to make cable of various sorts and would work well. The barbs would be a pain, but woven fencing has a number of advantages including visibility to running animals.

With enough hectarage solar powered fencing could extract CO2 from the atmosphere and distill pure carbon. I looked at the current methods for creating carbon fiber and there was no way it would scale. The trick was getting the polyacrylonitrile (PAN) factory into a highly reliable distributed machine. At the end of the day, all you needed was a plentiful source of energy/heat, the ability to sequester oxygen, lots of length, and a place to store the finished fiber until it is picked up. I had a crude factory running by the end of summer. It was a non-oxidized product, you couldn't get resin to stick to it, but was fencing cable, heck as most kinds of cable, it was fine.

And I learned a lesson, one that has stuck with me. I made it too small to fail.


You heard me, too small to fail. It is a big part of my design philosophy to this day. Remember when we were kids and they had the #FAIL in Houston and that Arkema plant blew sky high? They put all those organic polymers in one place and had to keep them cool or kaplooey. Well, the organic polymers in carbon fiber are not child's play either. But if you distribute the PAN creation across kilometers of fence line and one strand bites it, it is no worse than a cow head butting your old school galvanized barbed wire, whoops. You replace a strand.

So, did you ever have fencing blow?

Heck yes, sometimes it was even an accident, it is kind of fun to blow a strand on a dark night, not much else to do around here.

OK, so you created your first generation product, at least the percent of production that survived your youthful pursuits of immediate explosive gratification. How did you market it?

In the early days we didn't have to. If you wanted fiber, you searched for it on the Internet. I started with an online specialty retailer, found some customers in the online craft world, worked up. The tricky part was getting the orders to the point my whole life did not revolve around boxing and shipping.

But, as I understand it, carbon fiber was really pricey back then and the manufacturing was a trade secret, weren't you afraid someone would spock you out, duplicate your process at a gazillon times your scale?

Yes and no, as long as I was selling the untreated stuff I was below the boat and plane builder radar, they couldn't use it for anything except cable. But that meant I was niche. I wanted to go big, but still had a semester in school to finish and I had come too far to quit now.

Yup and there was that lady in nursing you met after the summer, Jane Austen, if I recall, you tanned wizzened slow talking cowboy. Hey, we are at full charge, should we head out?

Let's rock! They folded the charge fabric, you could feel the sun the second you pulled it off, and stowed it. They would head Northwest till they reached a fork in the road and follow that branch of the road Southwest until they intersected Dry Creek at about 1.76k altitude and camp near the "mile high marker", an old Forest Service sign of cast aluminum designed to look like a park service rustic wooden sign. Adrian smiled as he thought about it, somebody must have had money burning a hole in their budget with that one.

XXX restarted the conversation, so if I needed low end fiber, you were the man?

Sure, and it wasn't low end exactly, I just had not oxidized the surface so resin would stick, but that wasn't the way I wanted to go. For some applications you need resin of course, but that leads straight to exploding chemical factories. I didn't want resin to be plan A. There had to be a way to form the fiber for many applications without it.

Fence posts, they make a great example, the posts were pretty complex.  Maybe there was a way to weave the fibers into a post that would be flexible, but not too flexible. If it was hollow then there would be things it could be used to do. If the post is buried in the ground at least a meter there is enough thermal difference to generate electricity. My brain kept racing down the high tech path and I had to keep call it back, think low tech. Do you realize woven fences are one of the earliest human inventions? The lateral members help strengthen and stiffen the vertical ones and even using products like tree vines the Neanderthals made some very strong fences.

So where were you in school at this point?

Between mid-terms and finals senior semester and with help from my friend Gizmo, I had a weaving machine designed to produce various double braids, cover and core as they say in the industry. If you needed one of the finest ropes I was your boy, but in terms of a fence, not so much. Jane brought me supper in the lab one night and called it limp post syndrome. Have you ever tried to make a rope stand up? But I was getting closer. I could produce fibers that were solid or hollow in pretty much any length needed. I had the weaving under control though it was one machine and only double braid. Jane, actually, supplied the idea that led to a  workable post, she suggested erectile bands. If the post was thick enough, (made of enough strands), placed in the soil deep enough, and the strands were bound together with enough tension it was a very workable post. Not as stiff as steel or wood, but it didn't have to be, the stringers passing through the erectile bands took care of that making for lightning fast installation.

There was still a problem, the posts needed to be deeper in the ground for the stiffness to work, but my buddy laserman built me a solar powered drill, in fact that is where I learned about charge fabric. Did you know they used nylon back then? Needless to say, the best selling charge fabric is hollow fiber carbon, lighter and stronger. I put in a sample fence back at the ranch, showed my dad, this was plain, no solar, no carbon factory, no thermal generation, just plain vanilla fence and he liked it and we started talking about using this design as fence on the ranch needed to be replaced.

So now you were ready to go into business?

Not hardly. Don't get me wrong, I had found my spot in the fiber rope world, had a few employees, some took orders, others packed and shipped, Using the ranch as a "model home" we were selling some fencing including fencing with the extras I had dreamed about. I pretty much ran the production system out at the ranch. It was an honest living, enough to support a small family if Jane and I got married. But the handwriting was on the wall, go big or go home.

So what was stopping you?

Just about everything, wanting to spend more time with Jane, knowing that the operation would become ever more visible. I had looked into patents, but that deal is rigged, the little guy loses more than a gambler to the house. To keep the carbon production to small to fail, (catastrophically), meant more micro factories, meant more exposure and so forth, there were just too many moving parts, I felt paralyzed. I was young, still creative, I didn't think I would end up a one trick pony, but this had taken so much of my time, figuring out how to solve each and every aspect. I was at a place I truly did not know what to do.

So what did you do?

I punted, after talking things over with Jane, I bought a six pack of imported beer and a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket and pulled an all nighter talking with Gizmo about starting a company. My company would be the fiber supplier, unless Gizmo could come up with a better deal. Our company would weave the fiber into cloth for the tactical market.


Yeah, bullet proof vests, bikers use that kind of clothes if they have to lay it down, divers for sharks, you would be amazed at the market for carbon nanotube cloth. Maybe, in the fullness of time if people could deal with the black color, maybe even sails. I had some cash from what I had done, Giz could build, operate and maintain the weaving machinery. We had been playing Frisbee golf with a lady about to graduate with her MBA and her slate was empty right now.  We hired her on a salary basis to manage the intake of orders and delivery and work with CPA to pronounces us street legal at the end of the year. We called it FABAG, (fabric from Adrian and Gizmo). We were

*** Need Porter's five in here

FABAG was really taking off and I knew it was just a matter of time till Giz and XXX demanded more fiber than I was able to produce. I needed a carbon source on steroids and I was pretty sure how to get it. With climate change wildfires were a growing problem. There was no way to stop them, but you could cut barriers, removing all the trees and vegetation. It wasn't really practical for loggers, these long skinny strips through wilderness. Ever since that summer on the ranch I had been aware of how important the park and forest service are to wilderness area, heck, we are on a Forest road right now. I didn't think I had a chance of winning a contract just clear cutting so I approached some private landowners and offered to cut a strip for them for free if I could use it as a "model home" to drum up more business.

The first two were done with leashed equipment and crews. They dropped the trees, pulled the stumps, ground them into chips. We fed the chips into our factories and out came the fiber. We delivered over a million kilometers to FABAG just as they were landing their first major contract. Sorry to say we didn't do a bit of it with solar, must have seen a thousand diesel tankers come by the site. But we left the landowner a huge surprise. We ran weavers behind the factories and created curbs for storm water runoff. We took all the rocks and

How did you make the jump from fences to 30M yachts? Well long before the first boat was an all terrain vehicle. They needed them on the ranch and Adrian figured other ranchers would want them as well. He had no idea how popular the Carbonado X/C would finally be.

The biggest lesson we learned in the fence project was to scale down the options. When we entered the market people were still used to infinite choice and throw-away products. We offered a fence. A very good fence, a long lasting fence, but a fence. And it was black. I can't tell you how many times we got requests to colorize the fence, but carbon fiber is black and any colorant will wear off long before the lifetime of the product.

I was always into boating and carbon fiber is the cream of the crop of boat building materials. It isn't perfect, but it is strong and light. Since it was a boat, we had to consider various resins. No matter how tightly you weave the product, if it sits in water, eventually the water will soak it through. One of the design decisions important decisions relates to the conductivity.

At the time we started the design, carbon fiber masts were considered non-conductive ... unless the boat was struck by lightning or hit a powerline. Most people do not know this, but my grandfather's brother was killed on a catamaran in Texas as a young teen. Scout camp, Lake O' The Pines. They struck an overhead power line, aluminum mast, they didn't have a chance. But there was already a protocol for building a carbon mast that has a chance of surviving a lightning strike, lightning rod and static dissipator on the mast head.

Boat people don't like any curtailment of options. They believe there are no two boats that are exactly the same, even charter boats. We were trying to balance safety, performance, comfort and considering the primary use of the crafts, a reasonable degree of cargo. There was simply no way we were going to be able to appeal to sailors with thirty years of experience that had owned several boats.

So what did you do?

Adrian smiled and after a minute he spoke. We created out own "boat people". The need was there. There was basically no road system on the Northern coast before all in infrastructure meltdowns. Their solution was planes with flotation pontoons that could land in the lakes. But when fuel became unreliable, so did that solution. True, our boats could only reach coastal settlements, but people tend to live on the coast even in a time of storms and rising sea level. Not sure we could call it an 80 percent solution, but it certainly worked for the majority of use cases. Since we already had an academic infrastructure, we added a sailing academy and the sailing was done on our boats. Graduates had experience fishing, hauling cargo, deepwater scientific exploration, trade and so forth, so they could make a career for themselves.


Popular posts from this blog

Cyanobacteria - lakes

D Cody runs the route for Guy - weird van

Done 1.4 Eli Gallen and his robotic portraits, Harold, Yolanda