Engineering is nothing without chemical elements and the materials they make up. 2017 is already ripe with technological achievements, but which elements are going to play the biggest role this year? Let’s take a look.
Aluminum really found its way to the forefront of engineering when improving manufacturing techniques made it more cost effective. While aluminum continues its dominance in automotive manufacturing and other applications, the true rise of aluminum technology has more to do with 3D printing and additive manufacturing. High-strength aluminum powder is being developed for use in aerospace and other high-intensity applications, according to SAE. Advancements in aluminum additive manufacturing techniques make it a prime content for the pending additive manufacturing of airplanes. Manufacturers like Boeing are already planning on engineering 3D printed aircraft, according to Digital trends, and aluminum alloys will be at the forefront of this engineering.
Carbon is set to play a big role in engineering not only because of advancements in carbon nanotubes and carbon fiber but also because of CO2 harvesting techniques that are being pioneered that may one day solve our energy problems. Carbon fiber and carbon nanotubes are some of the world’s leading supermaterials, but cost and manufacturability have largely hurt their widespread use. Leading research teams from across the globe are working to create better manufacturing methods for strong carbon products, but that isn’t the only focus on carbon in modern engineering.
Handling the CO2 emissions in our atmosphere has become a major engineering issue in the 21st century. Carbon Engineering is just one company that believes they may have a solution to the problem. Their fan and filter mechanism can extract 80 percent of the CO2 from the air. They envision that this carbon dioxide will eventually be combined with excess hydrogen from other renewable energies to create complex hydrocarbons. These “renewable” hydrocarbon substances could then be used to fuel existing vehicles and aircraft. It’s a bold move in engineering, but one that may fuel the future of renewables.
Lithium batteries have been behind most of the major advances in modern technology. Perhaps the biggest reason why lithium will be at the forefront of engineering in 2017 is its continuing role in battery technology. This element is at the core of every single electric car battery and nearly every phone battery. As electric cars continue to rise in use, demand for lithium and advances in its use will come with them. Due to much of the nature of battery science, don’t expect a big breakthrough in the technology anytime soon. Rather, we can expect lithium batteries to slowly improve year by year as we learn more about the exact science behind them.
Silicon is perhaps the most obvious of all of the elements on the list. In the electronic and information age, silicon plays one of the biggest roles throughout engineering. With silicon, we will continue seeing advancements in transistor technology, although Moore’s law may be slowing. Silicon is also heavily abundant in the Earth’s crust and it makes the perfect semiconductor. Due to its relative cheapness and how crucial it is to electronic manufacturing, it is impossible to avoid the element in modern engineering.