Gareth B Neighbour, Speaker at Climate Change Conferences
School of Engineering & Innovation The Open University, United Kingdom
Title : The remarkable story of carbon


The story of Carbon is a remarkable one.  The elemental form of Carbon has a broad repertory of extraordinary physical, mechanical, and chemical properties, and despite being very abundant, and for many magical, it is often simply ‘taken for granted’.  Yet. it has supported metal clusters which perform feats of catalysis, first-wall lined fusion reactors, provided electrodes in large scale steel arc furnaces, enabled lithium-ion battery technology, provided structural support and moderated neutrons in fission reactors, protected F1 racing drivers, enabled exceptional ‘cutting’ tools, enabled high performance inks, optimized the performance of rubber products… the list is endless.  Most will be familiar with the carbon cycle, but few with the story of solid carbons, and in particular graphite, and the role it plays in the story of climate change from perhaps the negative influence of industrial applications in the early 20th Century to the positive and mitigating applications in the modern day such as electric vehicles and nuclear technology.  This paper will present a view of the ‘Carbon World’ with a summary of the story from 1564 and the use of plumbago through to the creation of artificial graphites and their use in industry to the resurgence of natural graphite as a critical mineral in modern markets and how this relates to the new applications in carbon nanomaterials.  The study of Carbon materials presents a paradox of being both the culprit in terms of, for example, carbon particulate matter, soot, in automotive and aerospace exhausts and in the extreme Black carbon from emissions which pays a crucial role as a contributor in climate change. On the contrary, also the hero in terms, for example, of using carbon dots or graphene in applications related to the environment and CO2 capture.  Underlying the story is the role of key reactions such as the “water-gas shift” reaction which has been pivotal in leveraging applications especially in the context of carbon capture.  New carbon materials are being deployed at a bewildering rate and the supply chain provide an incredibly lucrative market in helping mitigate climate change.  The paper will appreciate the key contributions in the remarkable story of Carbon including Lavoisier, Acheson, Franklin, Fermi, Swan, Libby, Wigner, Kroto, etc. and demonstrate the complex and compelling history of solid carbon in relation to a common sustainable future.


Gareth joined the Open University in 2019 is currently Head of School.  Previous roles include Professor/Head of School of Engineering and the Built Environment at BCU, Professor/Head of Mechanical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences at Oxford Brookes and Deputy Dean of Science at University of Hull.  To date, he has provided independent research and advice to the nuclear and other heavy industries including EDF Energy, the regulator and also the IAEA and has a substantial research income to date.  He is currently the Senior Editor of the high impact journal, Carbon (Elsevier) and a past Chair of the British Carbon Group.