Nanotechnology Solutions for Energy Challenges

Nanotechnology Solutions for Energy Challenges

Author: Javier García-Martínez

A Fast-Changing Field

Almost every week, we hear about a major breakthrough in nanotechnology that could revolutionize the future of energy. The number of scientific papers on this topic is growing so fast that it is almost impossible to keep pace with the many and exciting solutions that nanoengineered materials are bringing to the different energy technologies. At the same time, the hype in this field is so high that it is often difficult to distinguish real contributions from the noise.

When talking about the future of energy, most of the attention is devoted to new production technologies, from photovoltaic (PV) cells to hydrogen generation, from piezoelectric to thermoelectric materials. These are all very important technologies, which will probably contribute in different extents to our future energy mix. However, for cleaner energy technologies to be competitive in the era of cheap and abundant shale oil and gas, more disruptive research is required. Nanotechnology holds the opportunity to provide the breakthroughs that the energy industry so desperately needs. The irruption of graphene has been a great example of what radical new materials could bring to the table.

Producing Clean Energy is Not Enough

But producing clean, abundant energy is not sufficient. There are other very important challenges that need to be solved, such as massive and efficient energy storage and transportation. We need new technologies that will help us to deal with constant changes in the supply and demand of energy. From advanced batteries to ultracapacitors, nanotechnology is providing key contributions for the smarter transformation, storage, and transportation of energy.

And even more important and urgent than that, and usually overlooked, is the opportunity to save energy through gains in efficiency, for example, by using nanostructured catalysts optimized for specific processes, or through reduction in energy losses, for example, by using more efficient illumination materials like nanostructured organic light-emitting devices and electrochromics in buildings.

Finally, nanotechnology can also greatly contribute to mitigate and adapt to climate change, for example, by using nanostructured materials like porous coordination polymers in the capture of CO2.

However, having the right technologies is not enough. They need to be scalable, cost-effective, reliable, and comply with safety and environmental regulations. These important aspects are not sufficiently addressed in most of the papers published and are typically ignored when the research is planned. In the introduction of many papers the authors make very broad claims about the potential application of their discoveries, whereas, in many cases, important issues like cost, scalability, and reliability are overlooked.
Of course, research should not be constrained by putting too many restrictions, like the ones listed above research – like cost, scalability, or reliability – too early in the discovery process. Scientists should feel free to explore any new ideas without limiting themselves by these aspects. However, even R&D in mature technologies grossly ignores important factors that are critically important to take the technologies from the lab to the market.

Inspiring and Informing a New Generation

Both nanotechnology and the future of energy are fascinating subjects that will define our lives and our economy. The intersection of these two topics is a crossroad for the future of our civilization.

Because of this reason, and to serve as a reference book for anyone interested in the field, Nanotechnology for the Energy Challenge gathers some of the world’s leading experts in the field to provide an authoritative and critical overview to all the major opportunities and challenges in the energy applications of nanotechnology. This is a new and extended edition of the first one published just a couple of years ago, a clear sign of how rapidly the field is growing. Three new chapters on graphene, piezoelectric materials, and novel catalysts for the Fischer–Tropsch process have been included in this new edition, and most of the original chapters have been expanded to include the most recent advances in the area. All these aspects are discussed in detail by some of the world’s leaders in each field.

Javier Garcia MartinezJavier García-Martínez is Professor of Inorganic Chemistry and leads the Laboratory of Molecular Nanotechnology at the University of Alicante, Spain. He is the founder of Rive Technology, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) spin-off commercializing nanomaterials for energy applications.

His research focuses on mesoporous materials and their modification with metal complexes and nanoparticles to improve their catalytic performance and reusability. He also works on mesoporous zeolites for refining applications and nanomaterials for catalysis, photocatalysis, and energy storage.

García-Martínez also is vice-chair of the World Economic Forum General Assembly Council on Emerging Technologies and a member of Bureau of the International Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).

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