Nanotechnology and Energy

Weary of high utility bills and gas pump sticker shock? You'll be glad to hear that nanotechnology is being used in several applications to improve the efficiency of energy generation or develop new methods to generate energy.

The Application of Nanotechnology to Energy Production

Here are some interesting ways that are being explored using nanotechnology to produce more efficient and cost-effective energy:

Generating steam from sunlight. Researchers have demonstrated that sunlight, concentrated on nanoparticles, can produce steam with high energy efficiency. The "solar steam device" is intended to be used in areas of developing countries without electricity for applications such as purifying water or disinfecting dental instruments. Another research group is developing nanoparticles intended to use sunlight to generate steam for use in running powerplants.

Generating hydrogen from sea water. Researchers at the University of Central Florida have demonstrated the use of a nanostructured thin film of nickel selenide as a catalyst for the electrolysis of hydrogen from sea water.

Producing high efficiency light bulbs. A nano-engineered polymer matrix is used in one style of high efficiency light bulbs. The new bulbs have the advantage of being shatterproof and twice the efficiency of compact fluorescence light bulbs. Other researchers developing high efficiency LED's using arrays of nano-sized structures called plasmonic cavities. Another idea under development is to update incandescent light bulbs by surrounding the conventional filament with crystalline material that converts some of the waste infrared radiation into visible light.

Increasing the electricity generated by windmills. An epoxy containing carbon nanotubes is being used to make windmill blades. Stronger and lower weight blades are made possible by the use of nanotube-filled epoxy. The resulting longer blades increase the amount of electricity generated by each windmill.

Generating electricity from waste heat. Researchers have used sheets of nanotubes to build thermocells that generate electricity when the sides of the cell are at different temperatures. These nanotube sheets could be wrapped around hot pipes, such as the exhaust pipe of your car, to generate electricity from heat that is usually  wasted. 

Storing hydrogen for fuel cell powered cars. Researchers have prepared graphene layers to increase the binding energy of hydrogen to the graphene surface in a fuel tank, resulting in a higher amount of hydrogen storage and therefore a lighter weight fuel tank. Other researchers have demonstrated that sodium borohydride nanoparticles can effectively store hydrogen.

Reducing the energy used for heating and cooling buildings. Researchers have demonstrated a device with heat absorbing sheet composed of  zinc-copper nanoparticles on a thin copper layer and a heat reflecting sheet using a thin silver film. The idea is to use these heat absorbing and reflecting materials to suplement existing HVAC systems and reduce the energy required to heat and cool buildings.

Clothing that generates electricity. Researchers have developed piezoelectric nanofibers that are flexible enough to be woven into clothing. The fibers can turn normal motion into electricity to power your cell phone and other mobile electronic devices.

Reducing friction to reduce the energy consumption. Researchers have developed lubricants using inorganic buckyballs that significantly reduced friction.

Reducing power loss in electric transmission wires. Researchers at Rice University are developing wires containing carbon nanotubes that would have significantly lower resistance than the wires currently used in the electric transmission grid. Richard Smalley envisioned the use of nanotechnology to radically change the electricity distribution grid. Smalley’s concept these upgraded transmission wires, which could transmit electricity thousands of miles with insignificant power losses, with local electricity storage capacity in the form of batteries in each building that could store power for 24 hours use.

Reducing the cost of solar cells. Companies have developed nanotech solar cells that can be manufactured at significantly lower cost than conventional solar cells. Check out our  Nanotechnology in Solar Cells page for the details.

Improving the performance of batteries. Companies are currently developing batteries using nanomaterials. One such battery will be as good as new after sitting on the shelf for decades. Another battery  can be recharged significantly faster than conventional batteries.  Check out our Nanotechnology in Batteries page for details.

Improving the efficiency and reducing the cost of fuel cells. Nanotechnology is being used to reduce the cost of catalysts used in fuel cells. These catalysts produce hydrogen ions from fuel such as methanol. Nanotechnology is also being used to improve the efficiency of membranes used in fuel cells to separate hydrogen ions from other gases, such as oxygen. Check out our Nanotechnology in Fuel Cells page for the details.

Making the production of fuels from raw materials more efficient. Nanotechnology can address the shortage of fossil fuels, such as diesel and gasoline, by making the production of fuels from low grade raw materials economical. Nanotechnology can also be used to increase the mileage of engines and make the production of fuels from normal raw materials more efficient. Check our Nanotechnology in Fuels page for details.


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