Nanotechnology: A Source of Free Energy?

Recently, I have been researching on alternative energy sources as part of a Chemistry related science club presentation. Solar panels, hydroelectric dams, wind turbines, geothermal heat pumps, were the first ideas that popped into my mind. We commonly hear about these forms of technology that are used to harness the renewable energy sources that are available to us and significant research and development have vastly improved our efficiency in utilizing these sources. However, many of these options are of larger scales and as an individual consumer, we may not have the capability or accessibility to switch towards these renewable sources even if we wanted to. Researching further into smaller scale forms of renewable energy technology, I found that innovations of all sizes are taking place, the most interesting of which is in the nascent field of nanotechnology used in harnessing solar power.

A Ted Talks by Justin Hall-Tipping, founder of a nanotechnology based energy research company called Nanoholdings, discusses some of his latest creations on how to “generate, transmit, store, and use”(Nanoholdings) solar power. Initially, he began with a common problem of the transfer of heat energy through windows in a home. The picture below illustrates how in the summer, the energy coming from the sun is heating the home that we are trying to keep cool, while in the winter, the heat is escaping from the home we are trying to keep warm.

Screen shot 2011-11-09 at 11.22.52 PM

Aiming to give consumers the ability to control the heat transfer occurring through their windows, Nanoholdings’s nanotechnology material uses Carbon, which undergoes a reaction where “graphite is blasted by a vapor, and when the vaporized Carbon condenses, it condenses back into a different form…called a Carbon nanotube”(Hall-Tipping).

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Vaporizing Carbon                             Structure of Carbon Nanotube

The unique thing about this nanotube is that it is “a hundred thousand times smaller than the width of one of your hairs” and “a thousand times more conductive than Copper”(Hall-Tipping). Because Carbon at the nanoscale behaves and looks very differently, instead of being black and solid, it is actually transparent and flexible. Combined with a plastic during manufacturing, this Carbon nanotube can actually undergo permanent changes in color by using merely “two volts from a millisecond pulse” (Hall-Tipping) per color change. If this material were used on a window, in its colored state, it will reflect away all heat energy from the sun, helping to insulate a cool home. Vice versa, while in its transparent state, it will allow all heat energy from the sun to pass through, helping to warm a home.

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Transparent Carbon Nanotube            Colored Carbon Nanotube

Another ongoing project at Nanoholdings called “NIRVision”, uses nanotechnology like above to develop “flexible, thin films…to convert infrared light into visible light”(Nanoholdings). Similar to how more modern night-vision goggles work, a “photo-detector film converts invisible infrared light into electrons…these electrons stimulate an optical film like a thin flexible display, to create a visible image”(Nanoholdings). As we know, the flow of electrons is a source of electrical energy. Hall-Tipping goes on to describe how if we combined the film created in NIRVision with the Carbon nanotube illustrated above, then we would have a material that takes “infrared radiation and converts it into electrons” (Hall-Tipping) and because of its flexibility and transparency, we would be able to attach it to any surface to ultimately become a free source of clean energy.

The applications of this nanotechnology-developed material are endless, as a free source of clean energy is the solution to both our rising energy demand and our Earth’s rising temperature. Unfortunately, this material is still being tested and until we are able to efficiently manufacture it at a low cost to the environment, we must continue our gradual movement towards renewable sources of energy and a more environmentally conscious mindset. Similar to Steven’s post on the revolutionary perspective of silk, Nanoholdings was able to take one of the most common and abundant elements, Carbon, view it from a different perspective, and alter it in a way as to develop a material with new and desired properties. An even greater implication lies in how Hall-Tipping is able to combine two different technologies with different applications and generate a new one with completely new applications. Developing brand new technology may be life changing, but sometimes the most sublime of solutions can lie in how well we can take advantage of what we already have.

Works Cited

Hall-Tipping, Justin. “Justin Hall-Tipping: Freeing Energy from the Grid | Video on TED.com.” TED: Ideas worth Spreading. TED Conferences, Oct. 2011. Web. 09 Nov. 2011. <http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/justin_hall_tipping_freeing_energy_from_the_grid.html>.

Nanoholdings. “Nanoholdings – Portfolio – New Technologies – Nirvision.” Nanoholdings. Nanoholdings LLC. Web. 09 Nov. 2011. <http://nanoholdings.com/portfolio/new-technologies/nirvision>.

One thought on “Nanotechnology: A Source of Free Energy?

  1. After reading Kevin’s post regarding nanotechnology, I became more fascinated by the idea of science on a microscopic scale. As a result I began to research for other interesting usages of nanotechnology in the world. It wasn’t long before I came across several products that benefit from nanotechnology such as sunscreen, self-cleaning glass and clothing. Out of all the interesting applications of nanotechnology, the antimicrobial bandage stood out the most. It is the combination of normal bandages with nano particles of silver to kill harmful bacteria on contact. I was drawn to this simple yet innovative and beneficial technology and decided investigate more about it.

    The key to this technology is silver. Silver has long been regarded as a potent antimicrobial agent. It has beneficial effects on the wound because of its characteristics. Silver ions rapidly kill pathogens by restricting the cellular respiration pathway. This occurs almost instantaneously as the silver reaches the wound. So far, there has been no report of microbial resistance to silver. Also silver can decrease the metalloproteinase activity on the wound. Metalloproteinase is a type of collagenase enzyme that plays a role in destroying tissues. This collagenase enzyme’s activity heavily depends on the availability of zinc on the wound. However when silver is added, it decreases the number of zinc hence leading to a decrease in the metalloproteinase activity. Silver also “oxidizes and binds to sulfur bonds, unlike Zinc and Copper which bind to oxygen”. These sulfur bonds play a role in the metalloproteinase activity. As a result, using silver coated bandages effectively reduces the destruction of tissue and also prevents secondary infections.

    Though side effects of such ideal substance are sometimes expected, silver can only harm in high dosage. According to Jeffrey Trogolo, Chief Technology Officer at AgION Technologies, Inc. in Wakefield, Mass., silver is “less toxic than table salt and less irritating than talcum powder.” Humans actually consume about 70 to 88 µm of silver each day. In addition Bruce Gibbins states that silver doesn’t interfere with the therapeutic properties of medical products hence is safe to use. Also using nanoparticles of silver on bandages can have significant economical implications. According to The Centers for Disease Control, “nosocomial infections cost hospitals more than $2300 per patient for diagnosis and treatment.” Thus by using silver bandages, hospitals may prevent infections and save money at the same time. This would enable hospitals to invest this ‘saved money’ on improving facilities or the quality of the medical treatment.

    At the end of my investigation, I realized how simple the technology is despite its significant impact. People nowadays focus too much on finding or creating something new. However this bandage uses old knowledge and still has tremendous amount of impact on society’s health. It seems that reflecting and using previous knowledge, regardless of its sophistication, is equally innovative and beneficial as discovering

    Work Cited
    Beneficial Effects of Silver on Burn Infection.” Welcome to Burnsurgery.org Web Site: Educating the Burn Care Professionals. Burn Surgery. Web. 10 Jan. 2012.

    Bonser, Kevin. “HowStuffWorks “Nanotechnology Uses”” HowStuffWorks “Learn How Everything Works!” How Stuff Works. Web. 10 Jan. 2012.

    Killing Germs — In Hospitals, Air Ducts with Silver-Based Coating Stay Germ-Free.” Science Daily: News & Articles in Science, Health, Environment & Technology. Science Daily. Web. 10 Jan. 2012.

    Tobler, David. “Nanotech Silver Fights Microbes in Medical Devices.” Teflon Coating || Coating Services || Antimicrobial Coating || Non Stick Coating || Low Friction Coating || Orioncoat.com. Orion Industries. Web. 10 Jan. 2012.

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