Skyrocketing energy costs. Carbon footprints. Global warming. We're consumed with the concerns about consumption of energy. And well we should be. Our industries, our economy, our lifestyles and our environment are on the line. Some of the best minds on the planet are pursuing solutions -- and a number of them, I'm proud to say, are nanotechnology based.
This month, I'll be part of a panel discussing Thermal Nanotechnology Solutions at NanoBusiness 2008, a gathering of some of the best scientific and business minds in nanotech. As excited as I am to share information about work on a nanofilm for windows to lower energy needed for heating and cooling, I'm more excited to hear about the work others are doing. I've been investigating some of the technology on the agenda, and it's pretty hot stuff. Let me give you a preview.
Here's one. We recycle paper and metal. What if we could recycle "waste heat" from other processes to generate electricity? That's the plan for Nextreme Thermal Solutions. The idea is a thermoelectric generator so small it can be embedded into a thin film. Imagine a device smaller than a contact lens that could generate 300 milliwatts of electricity in a high-heat environment. Imagine the energy output if it's built into large arrays. No smokestacks, no fuel rods, no power plants. Here's a bonus, even at low-levels of heat, it could generate enough power to run medical implants. No batteries to manufacture, charge, dispose.
Another approach to reducing energy use is to prevent the passage of heat and cold into or out of a space. Then you don't have to use energy to compensate. Consider a nano-enabled insulation that provides 7 or 8 times the power of conventional insulation materials of the same thickness. That's the Nanopore approach. They use nanoparticles to create material with nanoscale pores that create thermal resistance. The researchers are showing products that can be used from -200C to 300°C, and even all the way up to 800°C. And the applications? Everything from simple hot water heaters, stoves and automotive products to aerospace uses. Here's an example. The material has been tested as insulation on a military assault vehicle with exhaust temperatures that reach 650°C. Nano-hot insulation reduced the output to just 23°C higher than the surrounding air. Imagine what it could do for your home or office climate control?
What about when you need to generate high heat? That's the energy-hungry process required for joining materials, such as mounting armor, welding auto frames and putting together electronic components. Making the process a more energy-efficient task is the quest of a company called Reactive Nanotechnologies. Their concept is a foil that uses thousands of alternating nano-layers of aluminum and nickel. An electrical, thermal, mechanical or optical trigger can cause the layers to mix and generate a localized hot spot up to 2000°C in thousandths of a second. The process provides the needed heat for just the amount of time it's needed. No waste. And here's a bonus. The product is non-toxic and non-hazardous, both during production and in use.
That's just the start. There are plenty more ideas cooking with other nano-innovators. Technology that controls the heat in integrated circuits. Spray-on insulator coatings that generate electricity. A nano-motor propelled by temperature changes.
Will nanotechnology solve all our energy problems? Maybe not yet, but we're getting warmer.
Scott E. Rickert is chief executive of Nanofilm, Ltd., located in Valley View, Ohio. His e-mail address is [email protected].