30 September 2004
Nanotechnology provides energy solutions
By Jim Pinto
When asked what he would do today, if he were starting out again as a teenager, Michael Dell answered, “nanotechnology.” When asked what growth business he would start from scratch today, Jeff Bezos said “nanotechnology.”
It seems clear that small, incremental changes will not be sufficient to solve the world’s energy problems. What the world needs is a technological breakthrough—an inflection point that will bring orders of magnitude improvements. I think nanotechnology is at the forefront. Within the next decade, it will generate a new spread of products and services that will drive wealth and job creation.
Advancement of nanotechnology can be an integral component to solving the energy problem. Breakthroughs in nanotechnology open up the possibility of moving beyond current alternatives for energy supply by introducing technologies that are efficient, inexpensive, and environmentally sound.
Nanotechnology will be a major contributor to energy independence if the right investments occur. The major role of nanotechnology will be in new materials, for example in catalysts for energy generation or emissions scrubbing, membranes for fuel cells or huge storage capacitors, or new materials for strong, lightweight transmission lines and new kinds of lighting.
Nanotechnology such as nanotubes, nanowires, and nanocomposites for batteries, will bring orders of magnitude improvements. Nanostructured membranes, nanohorn electrodes, and nanocatalysts will make fuel cells smaller, lighter, and more affordable.
Many people feel that clean, nuclear energy is the only energy-efficient solution. France, for example, gets 75% of its electrical power from nuclear energy and exports electricity to neighboring countries. But, oil and environmental-safety lobbies seem to exert a major influence in the U.S., to the extent that only some 20% of U.S. electrical power comes from nuclear energy.
In any case, if cheap electricity was available, critical innovation needs to allow gigawatts of electrical power to transport over continental distances. Nanotechnology in the form of single-wall carbon nanotubes (or bucky tubes) forming quantum wires will be important in this electrical transmission revolution.
Richard Smalley – Nano-energy will save the Earth
Nanotechnology helps solve the world’s energy problems
Book: Nanocosm – Nanotechnology and the Big Changes Coming
Behind the byline
Jim Pinto is an industry analyst and founder of San Diego–based Action Instruments. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or view his writings at http://ww.JimPinto.com. Read excerpts from his new book, Automation Unplugged at http://www.jimpinto.com/writings/unplugged.html.