Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Europe Rallies Behind Nanotechnology To Wean World From Fossil Fuels

13.10.2008
Nanotechnologies can be used to develop sustainable energy systems while reducing the harmful effects of fossil fuels as they are gradually phased out over the next century.

This optimistic scenario is coming closer to reality as new technologies such as biomimetics and Dye Sensitized solar Cells (DSCs) emerge with great promise for capturing or storing solar energy, and nanocatalysis develops efficient catalysts for energy-saving industrial processes.

Europe is ready to accelerate development of these technologies, as delegates heard at a recent conference, Nanotechnology for Sustainable Energy, organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF) in partnership with Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung in Österreich (FWF) and the Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck (LFUI).

The conference focused on solar rather than other sustainable energy sources such as wind, because that is where nanotechnology is most applicable and also because solar energy conversion holds the greatest promise as a long-term replacement of fossil fuels. Solar energy can be harvested directly to generate electricity or to yield fuels such as hydrogen for use in engines. Such fuels can also in turn be used indirectly to generate electricity in conventional power stations.

"The potential of solar power is much, much larger in absolute numbers than that of wind," said Professor Bengt Kasemo from Chalmers University of Technology and the chair of the ESF conference. However, like wind, the potential of solar power generation varies greatly across time and geography, being confined to the daytime and less suitable for regions in higher latitudes, such as Scandinavia and Siberia. For this reason there is growing interest in the idea of a global electricity grid according to Kasemo.

"If solar energy is harvested where it is most abundant, and distributed on a global net (easy to say - and a hard but not impossible task to do) it will be enough to replace a large fraction of today's fossil-based electricity generation," said Kasemo. "It also would solve the day/night problem and therefore reduce storage needs because the sun always shines somewhere."

In the immediate future, solid state technologies based on silicon are likely to predominate the production (manufacture) of solar cells, but DSC and other "runners ups" are likely to lower costs in the long term, using cheaper semiconductor materials to produce robust flexible sheets strong enough to resist buffeting from hail for example. Although less efficient than the very best silicon or thin film cells using current technology, their better price/performance has led the European Union to predict that DSCs will be a significant contributor to renewable energy production in Europe by 2020. The DSC was invented by Michael Grätzel, one of the speakers and vice chair at the ESF conference.

The key point to emerge from the ESF conference, though, is that there will be growing choice and competition between emerging nanotechnology-based solar conversion technologies. "I think the important fact is that there is strong competition and that installed solar power is growing very rapidly, albeit from a small base," said Kasemo."This will push prices down and make solar electricity more and more competitive."

Some of the most exciting of these alternatives lie in the field of biomimetics, which involves mimicking processes that have been perfected in biological organisms through eons of evolution. Plants and a class of bacteria, cyanobacteria, have evolved photosynthesis, involving the harvesting of light and the splitting of water into electrons and protons to provide a stream of energy that in turn produces the key molecules of life. Photosynthesis can potentially be harnessed either in genetically-engineered organisms, or completely artificial human-made systems that mimic the processes, to produce carbon-free fuels such as hydrogen. Alternatively, photosynthesis could be tweaked to produce fuels such as alcohol or even hydrocarbons that do contain carbon molecules but recycle them from the atmosphere and therefore make no net contribution to carbon dioxide levels above ground.

Biomimetics could also solve the longstanding problem of how to store large amounts of electricity efficiently. This could finally open the floodgates for electrically-powered vehicles by enabling them at last to match the performance and range of their petrol or diesel-based counterparts. One highlight of the ESF conference was a presentation by Angela Belcher, who played a major role in pioneering nanowires made from viruses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US. Bizarre as it sounds, there is a type of virus that infects E.coli bacteria (a bacteriophage) capable of coating itself in electrically-conducting materials such as gold. This can be used to build compact high capacity batteries, with the added advantage that it can potentially assemble itself, exploiting the natural replicating ability of the virus. The key to the high capacity in small space lies in the microscopic size of the nanowires constructed by the viruses - this means that a greater surface area of charge carrying capacity can be packed into a given volume.

However, commercial realisation of biomimetic and other emerging technologies lies far in the future. But meantime, as delegates heard from several speakers at the ESF conference, nanotechnology has an important contribution to make, improving the efficiency of existing energy-generating systems during the transition from fossil fuels. For example, Robert Schlögl outlined how nano-scale catalysts can be used to improve the efficiency of engines or systems consuming fossil fuels.

Inspired by such presentations, delegates at the conference were unanimous in calling for a follow up. "The conference was regarded as a real success and a new proposal for a conference in 2010 (chaired by Grätzel) will soon be submitted," said Kasemo. "In particular the conference inspired and educated young people, such as doctors, students, postdocs, young researchers, who will be the ones to realise the potential of nanotechnology for sustainable energy."

The ESF-FWF conference in Partnership with LFUI on NANOTECHNOLOGY FOR SUSTAINABLE ENERGY was held at the Universitätszentrum Obergurgl, near Innsbruck in Austria during June 2008.

More information
http://www.esf.org/activities/esf-conferences/details/2008
/confdetail257.html?conf=257&year=2008

Thomas Lau | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esf.org

Further reports about: ESF Fossil Nanotechnology fossil fuels fuels solar energy

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Upcycling 'fast fashion' to reduce waste and pollution
03.04.2017 | American Chemical Society

nachricht Litter is present throughout the world’s oceans: 1,220 species affected
27.03.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

DGIST develops 20 times faster biosensor

24.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Nanoimprinted hyperlens array: Paving the way for practical super-resolution imaging

24.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Atomic-level motion may drive bacteria's ability to evade immune system defenses

24.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>