Fantastic plastic

About the prospects for Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) below the Forth (your reports, 11 November), while I do think there may be short-term value in using this as an energy source, longer term I favour the other use advocated for these carbon-rich deposits: mainly as feedstock for manufacture of plastics and other useful materials we are learning to make.

Carbon-fibre composites have already proven their worth as an alternative to metals, superior for applications where lightness and non-corrosion are key, and we can hope to see this field grow and costs drop: with scope not only as vehicle parts but in architecture, furniture and many daily products.

Adding organic smart-film semi-conductive technology, can we develop lightweight, carbon-based panels for our buildings and transport which will switch between being clear, reflective and dark, according to need: to vary shade and warmth, and perhaps generate electricity too? We are becoming familiar with thin-panel display screens and speakers, consuming less material to make and less energy to use.

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I think the future of civilisation may lie in increased harnessing of available carbon: investing it reusably, in devices and structures, rather than expending it in one-off combustion.

This trend could both stimulate economic development and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Graham King

Couston Street