Nanotechnology Offers Some Solutions to Climate Change

Tiny nanomaterials show promise in many efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Sir Lankan village shop at dusk lit by solar panels -  Nanotechnology could help make solar cells more  accessible, efficient and affordable
Sir Lankan village shop at dusk lit by solar panels - Nanotechnology could help make solar cells more accessible, efficient and affordable


Rosanne Skirble

Nanoparticles are tiny. These unique materials, sometimes comprising only a few atoms or molecules, can be manipulated to make new materials with novel properties. Some are better at conducting electricity or heat. Others are lighter, harder or more durable. Nanoparticles are already inside hundreds of consumer products from bicycle parts and tennis racquets, to clothing and cosmetics.  Andrew Maynard, chief science advisor for the Emerging Nanotechnology Project at Washington's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, says nanomaterials could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is a major goal of the upcoming international climate talks in Copenhagen.

Making solar cells more affordable and efficient

Maynard says nanoparticles show a lot of promise in renewable energy fields like solar power.   "One of the technologies which is being looked at is roll-to-roll technologies for solar cells, where effectively we can print the next generation of solar cells on flexible surfaces. That not only makes it very cheap, but it also means that we can use these new cells in new innovative ways."     

Lighter vehicles use less fuel

Next to China, the U.S. is the world's largest polluter. Twenty-eight percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are from transportation. Maynard says nanomaterials can help reverse that trend.  "If you can make a car or an airplane which is far lighter than current ones, and yet still being stronger and safer, you can reduce the engine required to get from point A to point B. And again, nanotechnology is allowing us to do that," he says.

Nano-additives in diesel fuel have also shown to increase efficiency and reduce emissions.  Maynard says nanotechnology could also increase battery storage capacity. With an expanding electric vehicle market, rechargeable batteries would be in great demand. "And a number of companies are currently working on developing relevant batteries which are going to be far more powerful, be able to store far more energy and release that energy far faster than conventional batteries because they are being engineered," he says.

Nanotechnology could make hydrogen fuel a viable option

Maynard also says that nanotechnology could help launch hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuels. When it burns, he says, the byproduct is water. "There are two components to this.   You've got the fuel cell, which converts the hydrogen and oxygen into electricity, but then you've got the tank that holds your hydrogen. It's the tank that holds the hydrogen, which is one of the really difficult parts at the moment. Because one of the only options that it seems is available at the moment is to compress this hydrogen to very, very high pressures and put it into a tank, which is inherently unsafe." 

Maynard says nanotechnology offers some solutions to the hydrogen fuel safety problem by creating materials that can be packed full of hydrogen, not at low temperatures and not at high pressures. "There you've got an intrinsically safe way of transporting your hydrogen around, ready to put into your fuel cell whenever you need it."

Questions remain about the safety of nanomaterials

But Maynard says, as new nanomaterials are developed, safety remains a legitimate concern. "There is still some uncertainly about the new materials and how they might spread through the environment, how they might affect environmental organisms and how they might affect humans if we are exposed to them. So there's research there that needs to be done, but certainly I don't think there are any insurmountable problems."     
And he believes that onnce they've established their utility and safety, nanoscale materials will eventually complement existing technologies in helping to mitigate the impact of climate change.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs