In Cuba, word is spreading like a wild fire of a new use for a weed that has blighted the local agricultural industry for decades. With the growth of the sugar industry during the reign of the Soviet Union, and then the sudden depletion following its collapse, the ‘Marabou Weed’ quickly took its place in the fields and is now considered the worst ecological plague across the entire country. Seemingly it had no use as it is not particularly combustible and thus useless for cooking fires, it cannot be used in construction and it doesn’t float either, and therefore has no nautical applications.
However, researcher scientists at Strathclyde University have made a shocking discovery - it seems that the Marabou was merely waiting for current technology to catch up with the myriad of potential applications that Strathclyde have announced it may serve.
The plant can be compressed and refined through a chemical process to create an extremely dense form of activated carbon; with a few grams they claim ‘having a surface area equivalent to the city of Glasgow’. The process of carbon filtration can utilize this non-toxic form of the element to cleanse fluids of impurities such as medical alcohol and drinking water that would not be possible without such a high surface area. The ramifications of this, particularly for Cuba’s economy, are extreme because having such a cheap and abundant material could lead to the Island state’s famed rum industry seeing exponential growth, as well a huge potential for clean water supply to many developing Latin countries, particularly in South America.
But Marabou carbon will also have applications in the energy industry, says Strathclyde’s research team as its incredible surface area also makes it an excellent material for lightweight rechargeable batteries. These new ‘Lithium-Oxygen’ batteries being devised in league with the University of St. Andrews could revolutionize the electric powered car industry. Due to the surface area of this particular carbon, the batteries themselves are around fifteen times lighter than their market competitor which translates to roughly fifteen times the capacity for storing energy. The upshot of this is that, with time and development, in the near future electrical cars will become a far more practical alternative to fossil fuelled transport, because the capacity of these batteries will allow them to travel many hundreds of kilometres, as opposed to the paltry few dozen they do currently.
The Marabou is also being employed as an earth friendly super capacitor that, while unable to store as much energy as a conventional battery, can deliver it far more quickly and efficiently and thus has applications in the acceleration field of electrical transport. It is has also been theorized that, were the Marabou to be burned alongside fossil fuel carbons such as coal, it’s porous molecules would be able to absorb much of the carbon emissions that have damaged the atmosphere. The density of the material also makes it extremely easy to transport and if all these applications are to see fruition then we may witness the emergence of a new economic power in Cuba.
All that from a nuisance weed! Maybe we’ll be looking at those dandelions in our gardens with a new respect!