Monday, 6 September 2010

Great Things Come in Small Packages: Nanotechnology and Energy

If current news is any indication, Nanotechnology is poised to play a
significant role in the development of clean, less expensive energy. The
potential of nanotechnology for solving some of today's greatest energy
challenges is vast.

Nanotechnology refers broadly to a field of applied science and technology
whose unifying theme is the control of matter on the molecular level in
scales smaller than one micrometer, normally 1 to 100 nanometers, and the
fabrication of devices within that size range. For scale, a single virus
particle is about 100 nanometers in width.

Encompassing nanoscale science, engineering and technology, nanotechnology
involves imaging, measuring, modeling, and manipulating matter at this
length scale."

At this size dimension, the physical, chemical, and biological properties of
materials differ in fundamental and valuable ways from the properties of
individual atoms, molecules, or bulk matter. The properties displayed at the
nanoscale create a host of potential innovative uses for nanomaterials. One
of these uses includes the creation of exciting and revolutionary energy
applications. These potential nanoscale energy applications apply to a host
of different sources of energy, including hydrogen, geothermal,
unconventional natural gas, fission, and solar energy.

While hydrogen is an energy storage medium, it is not a primary energy
source. Therefore, full realization of hydrogen as an alternative energy
source is frustrated by gaps in technology, which do not precipitate the
efficient and cost-effective storage and transport of hydrogen. Nanoscience
provides new approaches to basic questions about the interaction of hydrogen
with materials to enable the efficient and cost-effective storage and
transport of hydrogen.

Applying nanotechnology to geothermal energy increases the opportunities to
develop geothermal resources by enhancing thermal conductivity or aiding in
the development of noncorrosive materials that could be used for geothermal
energy production.

The recovery of unconventional sources of natural gas is yet another
potential application of nanotechnology. Unconventional sources of natural
gas include tight sandstones, shale gas, and coal bed methane.
Nanotechnology applications may prove useful in accessing or exploiting
these unconventional natural gas sources. For instance, nanocatalysts and
nanoscale membranes may prove useful in assisting in Gas to Liquids
production. Furthermore, certain nanostructured materials may assist in
compressed natural gas transport.

Nanotechnology may also prove useful in solving the waste problems of the
nuclear energy industry. For instance, certain nano-engineered barriers may
prove useful in preventing the migration of or containing nuclear waste

Nanotechnology applications may assist in making solar energy more
economical. Nanoscience can be utilized to improve the efficiency of
photovoltaic cells, creating cost-efficient conversion systems, effective
solar power storage systems or even the generation of solar energy on a
larger scale. For instance, "nanopatterning" can artificially change the
optical properties of materials to allow light to be trapped in solar cells.

Nanotechnology might someday allow for more powerful, more efficient and
less expensive energy generation, storage transmission and distribution.
Nanotechnology is being used to optimize production from existing energy
sources and to exploit new sources such as geothermal, liquefied natural
gas, nuclear and solar energy. Nanotechnology is also improving and opening
new possibilities for the transmission and storage of energy, especially
electricity and possibly hydrogen in the future. Nanotechnologies have the
potential to reduce energy consumption by making it possible to manufacture
lighter and/or more energy efficient cards and appliances. Even though
nanotechnology is a relatively young field, the potential for future
nanotechnology applications within the energy industry could turn out to be
one of the most important technological developments of our time.

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