I have covered nanosolar before. In this column I will highlight generic nanoenergy, starting with the late Nobel laureate who received the award for his work on buckyballs. According to Richard Smalley, humanity’s Top Ten Problems for next 50 years are: (1) energy; (2) water; (3) food; (4) environment; (5) poverty; (6) terrorism and war; (7) disease; (8) education; (9) democracy; and (10) population.
In a 2003 talk, he foresaw the following shift in energy generation and demand between 2003 and 2050…
Energy has been seen for a while as one of the main areas nanotechnology should tackle.
According to a 2006 Nano energy conference: “There is a growing awareness that nanoscience and nanotechnology can have a profound impact on energy generation, storage, and utilization by exploiting the significant differences of energy states and transport in nanostructures and macrostructures. Nanotechnology-based solutions are being developed for a wide range of energy problems such as: solar electricity, hydrogen generation and storage, batteries, fuel cells, and thermoelectrics.”
“From energy saving to revolutionary approaches” was the tagline of the Nano Energy 2008 conference. The conference materials elaborated: “Today, nano-materials are the foundation for a fast-growing approach to energy saving. Indeed, nanotechnology offers the ability to enhance many key properties of energy technologies to achieve sustainability and secure the future energy supplies.”
The European Nanoroadmap Synthesis Report prepared for the European Commission stated: “Modern society is heavily depending on energy and any progress in this field is affecting a very large spectrum of sectors which are important for the EU policy as, for example, security and diversification of energy supply, climate changes and pollution, industrial competitiveness and sustainable growth.”
It identified 10 areas of Nanoenergy applications and examined four in the report:
- solar cells;
- rechargeable batteries and supercapacitors; and
- heat insulation and conductance.
A report from Cientifica -- “Nanotechnologies for the Automotive Energy Markets” -- indicates that the primary impact of nanotechnologies will be in more efficient use of existing resources, rather than the creation of new supplies from solar and hydrogen based technologies.
The report concludes that:
- The most immediate opportunities lie in saving energy through the use of advanced materials and this is already a $1.6 billion dollar market, predicted to rise to $51 billion by 2014
- Despite advances in battery technology, hydrogen storage and fuel cells, energy saving technologies will exhibit faster growth, accounting for 75% of the market for nanotechnologies in 2014, up from 62% in 2007
- The adoption of energy generation technologies is highly sensitive to geopolitical factors and consumer acceptance, while energy saving technologies exhibit no such problems
- Solid state lighting, nanocomposite materials, aerogels and fuel borne catalysts will have the greatest impact between now and 2014
- Compound annual growth rates are 64% for energy saving technologies and 90% for energy generation, while energy storage applications show a comparatively lowly 30%.
- Applications in transportation will increase to $50 billion by 2014 with a CAGR of 72%
Nanoenergy does not come without challenges, however. The European Nanoroadmap outlines timeframes to 2015 for the development of solar cells, thermoelectricity, rechargeable batteries and supercapacitors, and heat insulation and conductance. Challenges, barriers, and bottlenecks are identified.
- Photovoltaics -- drop cost by 100 fold
- Photocatalytic reduction of CO2 to methanol
- Direct photoconversion of light + water to produce H2
- Fuel cells -- drop the cost by 10-100x + low temp start
- Batteries and supercapacitors -- improve by 10-100x for automotive and distributed generation applications
- H2 storage -- light weight materials for pressure tanks and LH2 vessels, and/or a new light weight, easily reversible hydrogen chemisorption system
- Power cables (superconductors, or quantum conductors) with which to rewire the electrical transmission grid, and enable continental, and even worldwide electrical energy transport; and also to replace aluminum and copper wires essentially everywhere -- particularly in the windings of electric motors and generators (especially good if we can eliminate eddy current losses)
- Nanoelectronics to revolutionize computers, sensors and devices
- Nanoelectronics based Robotics with AI to enable construction maintenance of solar structures in space and on the moon; and to enable nuclear reactor maintenance and fuel reprocessing
- Super-strong, light weight materials to drop cost to LEO, GEO, and later the moon by > 100 x, to enable huge but low cost light harvesting structures in space; and to improve efficiency of cars, planes, etc.
- Thermochemical processes with catalysts to generate H2 from water that work efficiently at temperatures lower than 900 C
- Nanotech lighting to replace incandescent and fluorescent lights
- NanoMaterials/ coatings that will enable vastly lower cost of deep drilling, to enable HDR (hot dry rock) geothermal heat mining
- CO2 mineralization schemes that can work on a vast scale, hopefully
- starting from basalt and having no waste streams