Cities of Amorphous Carbonia

“A novel, glass-like form of carbon dioxide has been created in the laboratory by Italian scientists,” New Scientist reports. “Under extreme pressures the researchers found that CO2 forms a crystalline solid, dubbed ‘amorphous carbonia’ (a-CO2).” This new material “could shed light on the way CO2 behaves under pressure inside planets.” Instead of bedrock, for example, on these alien planets, you’d have miles and miles of transparent carbon dioxide glass spiraling downward beneath your feet, forming fissures and caves; a San Andreas fault of windowed canyons, shattering over millions of years. Glass continents.
As Jules Verne once wrote: “Look down well! You must take a lesson in abysses.” In this case, those abysses may well reflect you.

After being compressed under artificial, near-planetary pressures – or “400,000 to 500,000 atmospheres” – “CO2 molecules react to these conditions by forming an irregular crystalline, or amorphous, structure with oxygen molecules. The resulting material is transparent, tough, and has an atomic structure resembling that of ordinary window glass.”
Although amorphous carbonia “cannot [yet] exist outside of a pressure chamber,” some scientists have already imagined using the material for “new, less environmentally harmful ways to dispose of CO2.”
This could mean, for example, creating huge transparent cubes of carbon dioxide glass; these would then store excess CO2, locking it into perfect Euclidean forms, instead of letting more gas escape into the atmosphere where it would trap solar heat. The more cars and factories are put into operation anywhere in the world, pumping out yet more carbon dioxide, the larger these cubes will get, growing, reflective, looming on the edge of the city. Peripheral, abstract geometries of the purest architectural avant-garde.
Create enough and you could build whole cities with them.
Or, airlifted into the desert and buried there, future caves of glass will soon form, eroding from the surface down, abraded by sand-heavy winds. Years later, you’ll take walking tours of the Glass Caverns of Utah, staying in towns such as New Carbonia – even Carbonia an der Oder, or Carbonia-on-Thames – where everything is made from weird glass blocks, and windows look out upon a faceted abyss of crystalline landscapes, cubed mazes of self-generating reflections where future backpackers of the world will re-discover existentialism, writing abstract poetry in old notebooks before being driven mad.
A confrontation with your double that never ends.
Meanwhile, the skies have cleared of all excess carbon dioxide, and these cubes around the world continue to grow…

(With a nod, of course, to J.G. Ballard; of similar concern: BLDGBLOG’s A Natural History of Mirrors).

4 thoughts on “Cities of Amorphous Carbonia”

  1. If I had a chamber that operated at 500,000 atmospheres, I’d put some foam into it. Beer foam perhaps, which is mostly CO2 anyway. Or I’d lay some of this year’s garden in it, between two sheets of mylar. If my chamber was capable of moving through the landscape, I’d evacuate the cities, then flatten ’em. Would they spring back with the addition of H2O? Maybe supercompressed roadways would never need repairs. Or supercompressed shopping bags could be structural materials. Yeah.

    Do you think it’s possible to compress outer space? Stardust? Solar flares? And what powers this compressor? What’s its environmental footprint? Can we compress that too?

  2. Aren’t we already burying other things that we are going to regret in the future? Uranium and Plutonium come to mind. Does it really make sense to find ways to condense our waste, or should we try to avoid the creation of the waste in thhe first place?

  3. One man’s waste is another’s gold – in this case gold-bricks. Carbon dioxide is the carbon currency of the natural world and has never been ‘waste’ in the wild. Humans might be releasing a bit much of it for our comfort, but Earth has had virtually all of it in the air at times in the past. There’s only enough flammable carbon in the ground to boost the atmospheric level to less than 0.5%, even though the Earth has had CO2 levels up to 30%. A tiny fraction is in the current biosphere. The rest is geosequestered naturally as carbonates. If it wasn’t we’d have about 60 bars of the stuff in the air and be roasting at 350 C. Which makes Carbonia a very attractive form to turn the atmosphere of Venus into. Would be a convenient form to ship off-world to those other architectural marvels of tomorrow – artificial planets or space colonies.

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