Invest In Materials of the Future Today

Written By Nick Hodge

Posted July 15, 2011

You can now buy a flying car.

But I suggest you save the quarter million and invest in the science and materials ushering in this and other futuristic tools and instruments that will soon be commonplace, as material technology continues to advance by parsecs.

Called the Transition, the flying car is being produced by Terrafugia — what Forbes calls a “brainchild” of several MIT-trained engineers and MBAs.

Thing is, there are a million “brainchilds” out there, — and even more MIT- and Stanford- and Cambridge- and Tsinghua-trained scientists, all vying for the next big energy, medical, aviation, defense, and IT breakthroughs.

With the flip of a switch, the Transition can extend its wings and take flight.

It can fly 490 miles at 115 mph or get 23 miles per gallon on the highway. It’s been approved by the National Highway Safety Administration for both.

But it’s really a novelty — and has no real investment value — compared to some of the stuff I’m about to tell you about…

Forget Plastics

Aerogel is a Styrofoam-like material made by extracting the liquid component of a gel to form a solid.

The result is the most dense, porous solid known to man.Aerogel supporting a brick

It’s so light and strong, a two-gram mass of aerogel can support a five-pound brick.

It can be made from silica, carbon, aluminum, oxygen and other gels, depending on desired end use.

And the list of end uses is already long — and growing…

Aerogels can be used to absorb heavy pollutants like mercury, cadmium, and lead from water. They can make multi-layered supercapacitors and catalysts for fuel cells. NASA is using them as filters to trap space dust particles. They can be used as thickening agents in paints and cosmetics.

Above all else, they are best suited to be insulators. And that’s where the early money will be made.

Because they are composed almost entirely of gas, which is a poor heat conductor, aerogels nearly eliminate all three types of heat transfer: convection, conduction, and radiation.

One company is already dominating the market.

Aspen Aerogels has tripled its revenue since 2006, counting ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM), Petrobras (NYSE: PBR), Shell (NYSE: RDS-A), and Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW) as insulation customers.

Its aerogel insulation comes in thin-blanket form and offers up to five times the thermal performance of competitor products.

I’m anxiously awaiting the company’s $115 million IPO, which it filed for in late June.


Nobel Prize in Profits

Then there’s graphene, which won the Nobel Prize in Physics last year.

Best described as an atomic-scale chicken wire made from one layer of carbon atoms, three million sheets of the stuff would be one millimeter thick.

Graphene StructureGraphene is being hailed as a revolutionary building block for hi-tech electronics — everything from nanoribbons to transistors to circuits to solar panels.

And it’s even believed it will help us overcome Moore’s Law, or the idea that the number of transistors on a circuit (which control processing speed and memory capacity) can double every two years. This has indeed been the case since the circuit’s creation in 1958, but is expected to stop in the next few years — unless new materials are discovered.

We’ve gone as far as we can go with silicon.

So it’s a good thing MIT researchers have found a way to make graphene flakes into some of the most powerful transistors ever. Because of its chicken-wire form, Electronics Weekly reports it is “possible to produce A-B stacked layers, with the atoms in one layer centered over the spaces between atoms in the next, that yields desirable electronic properties.”

MIT has also found a way to make graphene electrodes that can carry current to and from solar cells more efficiently than the indium-tin-oxide used at present.

Vinjay Gupta of India’s National Physical Laboratory has done one better. He’s developed nine-nanometer-thick quantum dots that can be used as electron acceptors in LEDs and flexible rolls of solar film.

The University of Texas thinks it can use the stuff to make an “active, dynamically tuned invisibility cloak.”

The obvious play here is GrafTech International (NYSE: GTI), one of the world’s largest providers of advanced graphite and carbon materials for industry. It’s well-positioned for the graphite boom, and many analysts are calling for surging long-term sales.

Call it like you see it,

Nick Hodge Signature

Nick Hodge
Editor, Energy and Capital

P.S. Editors here at Energy and Capital — and at our sister site, Wealth Daily — have been developing a series of videos to help you better understand and act on the information we provide in newsletters. Called Whiteboard Weekly, I made my first one about new materials about to hit the market. If you have a second, check it out, along with the other ones that have been posted so far.

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