According to a recent report by the World Economic Forum, titled Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2016, graphene was ranked as the 4th most promising emerging technology for the world to watch due to its outstanding properties (e.g. stronger than steel, harder than diamond, lighter than almost anything, transparent, flexible, electrically conductive, impervious to most substances except water vapour etc.), as well as increasingly affordable price as a result of improved production technologies.
For example, the report states that “Graphene has become cheap enough to incorporate it in water filters, which could make desalination and waste-water treatment far more affordable. As the cost continues to fall, graphene could be added to road paving mixtures or concrete to clean up urban air—on top of its other strengths, the stuff absorbs carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides from the atmosphere”.
The top 10 emerging technologies include:
1. Nanosensors and the Internet of Nanothings – With the Internet of Things expected to comprise 30 billion connected devices by 2020, one of the most exciting areas of focus today is now on nanosensors capable of circulating in the human body or being embedded in construction materials. Once connected, this Internet of Nanothings could have a huge impact on the future of medicine, architecture, agriculture and drug manufacture.
2. Next Generation Batteries – One of the greatest obstacles holding renewable energy back is matching supply with demand, but recent advances in energy storage using sodium, aluminium and zinc based batteries makes mini-grids feasible that can provide clean, reliable, round the clock energy sources to entire villages.
3. The Blockchain – Much already has been made of the distributed electronic ledger behind the online currency Bitcoin. With related venture investment exceeding $1 billion in 2015 alone, the economic and social impact of blockchain’s potential to fundamentally change the way markets and governments work is only now emerging.
4. 2D Materials – Graphene may be the best-known, single-atom layer material, but it is by no means the only one. Plummeting production costs mean that such 2D materials are emerging in a wide range of applications, from air and water filters to new generations of wearables and batteries.
5. Autonomous Vehicles – Self-driving cars may not yet be fully legal in most geographies, but their potential for saving lives, cutting pollution, boosting economies, and improving quality of life for the elderly and other segments of society has led to rapid deployment of key technology forerunners along the way to full autonomy.
6. Organs-on-chips – Miniature models of human organs – the size of a memory stick – could revolutionize medical research and drug discovery by allowing researchers to see biological mechanism behaviours in ways never before possible.
7. Perovskite Solar Cells – This new photovoltaic material offers three improvements over the classic silicon solar cell: it is easier to make, can be used virtually anywhere and, to date, keeps on generating power more efficiently.
8. Open AI Ecosystem – Shared advances in natural language processing and social awareness algorithms, coupled with an unprecedented availability of data, will soon allow smart digital assistants help with a vast range of tasks, from keeping track of one’s finances and health to advising on wardrobe choice.
9. Optogenetics – The use of light and colour to record the activity of neurons in the brain has been around for some time, but recent developments mean light can now be delivered deeper into brain tissue, something that could lead to better treatment for people with brain disorders.
10. Systems Metabolic Engineering – Advances in synthetic biology, systems biology and evolutionary engineering mean that the list of building block chemicals that can be manufactured better and more cheaply by using plants rather than fossil fuels is growing every year.