News

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

Multimedia

Audio
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.
Comments
     
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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs