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Posted: March 14, 2007
Six nanotechnology applications to reduce carbon emissions
(Nanowerk News) With concern over climate change escalating around Europe, a new report highlights six nanotechnologies that can be used to reduce carbon emissions.
The six technologies, identified by the UK-based company Cientifica, are either available now or will be on the market within the next two years.
'All of the key applications are related to our enhanced control of materials at the nanoscale, whether lighter, stronger materials for transportation, better thermal insulators or more efficient ways of storing energy. The key players read like a Who's Who of global industry,' said Cientifica CEO Tim Harper.
Aerogels are the first technology to make it into the paper. On the market since 2003, aerogels are sometimes known as frozen smoke. They are the lightest substance that can be made, weighing just twice as much as air. They are created using nano-sized pockets of air entangled in silica.
As aerogels are transparent, lightweight, strong and insulating, they are highly attractive as a substitute for glass in architectural applications such as skylights and roofing. The gels can also be used for the transportation of liquefied natural gas.
Thin film solar cells address many of the weaknesses of current solar technologies. The components used today are based on silicon and are both expensive and brittle. Organic thin film, or plastic solar cells, use nanoparticles and polymers.
Currently in use in Turkey in the Philippines, and awaiting approval in the US, fuel-borne catalysts work by enabling diesel fuel to burn more efficiently in the engine, increasing fuel economy and reducing particle emissions. Trials have indicated that fuel efficiency could be increased by up to 10%, while the catalysts could also reduce soot emissions by around 15%.
Fuel cells are currently undergoing trials worldwide, and fuel cell powered vehicles are expected to make their way onto the market from 2009. A fuel cell is a cell device which uses electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen to convert chemical energy into electrical energy. The fuel cell then uses stored chemical energy to generate power.
Before fuel cell vehicles can be used on a large scale, an infrastructure for hydrogen filling stations must be constructed.
The penultimate technology pinpointed by Cientifica is the supercapacitator. Capacitators use physical charge separation between two electrodes to store charge. They are being trialled in mobile phones and hybrid electric vehicles, but have wide ranging potential applications. Their lightweight, low-cost production of energy could replace lead acid or even lithium-ion batteries.
Finally, nanocomposite materials are expected to replace steel in some constructions. Nanocomposite materials are polymers to which another material has been added in order to change the properties of the bulk material. They contribute to the reduction of emissions by reducing the weight of vehicles, and thus cutting fuel consumption. Boeing intends to replace all of the outside of its 787 aircraft with composites, and 50% of all materials in the aircraft. The automotive industry is also replacing exterior parts with nanocomposites.