Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Does gallium stand a chance?

Thank Gallium It’s Wednesday

Today we thank the thirty first element of the periodic table for contributing to our green machine. Gallium is named after Gaul the Latin name for France. Actually France is a leader in high tech but is often remembered for poor quality autos and rude waiters. Gallium is playing a very important role in the greening of lighting. Gallium Arsenide is used in fabricating light emitting diodes (LEDs), a technology that will soon proliferate in lighting homes, offices, streets and the outdoors. LEDs are much more efficient in converting electricity into light than incandescent or even florescent bulbs. LEDs also are also long lived and can glow continuously for 100,000 hours before needing replacement.

We can also thank Gaul for the Smart Car that is beginning to be sold in the USA. Yes Mercedes owns the Smart Car brand, but the cars are manufactured in France. Hopefully the folks from Mercedes have better quality control systems than Renault. Who remembers the Le Car Renault 5 that tried in vain to compete with the Honda Civic in 1980? Well this time I believe the French may actually have a winner in the Smart Car if the quality is can be maintained. One thing about the French, they can make the “Smart Car” as well as the “Not So Smart Car”.

There is some good news on the energy front with gasoline prices dropping since reaching a peak in mid June here in Tiburon. I use mid grade even though Mercedes recommends premium for my 1999 C 280. Actually every car can run on a grade lower than that recommended by the manufacturer, except of course if you use regular there is no grade marketed as sub-regular. On June 19th I filled up at the gas station by the Cove with mid grade costing $4.79 a gallon, on August 23 the very same gasoline cost $4.15 a gallon some sixty four cents less. It must be that Ark readers are paying attention to the Green Machine and driving less. If this is true for you I tip my black beret to you and say merci.

Returning to the periodic table, Gallium is a metal that falls between Aluminum and Indium and is referred to as a “poor metal”. Prior to its use in LEDs, gallium was used to help fabricate fine mirrors, nuclear weapons, and solder. The term “poor metal” does not refer to its economic status but like the other metals such as lead in its column of the periodic table, Gallium is soft and therefore considered poor. There is some hope that Gallium can be alloyed with other elements for dental fillings, hydrogen storage, and even treating cancer and autoimmune diseases.

LEDs will save a significant amount of electricity and is in essence the solid state replacement of a vacuum tube in lighting applications. We can thank Gallium for this improvement in efficiency. I personally like the name Gallium for a race horse or even a high performance car. Just think of it someday we may have the Hyundai Gallium just like we have the Hyundai Tiburon. However, if Renault named a car the “Le Gallium” this would relegate Gallium back to its poor metal status forever.

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