- Imagine the paint on your house or commercial building acting as a solar panel. How about your car?
- This may sound like science fiction but thanks to nanotechnology breakthroughs, it's now possible.
- This is an exciting possibility. But what is nanotechnology? And is it more science fiction than fact?
Nanotechnology refers to our ability to study and engineer technologies at a nanoscale, which is the ranges from 1 to 100 nanometers.
Nanotechnology is responsible for the new age of modern technology that will help civilization reach for the stars and more. It’s responsible for great advances in physics, biology, chemistry, engineering and material science.
Imagine a future where every home, office or building is painted with solar panels and its bricks operate as batteries thanks to nanotechnology.
Since 1981, we’ve come forward leaps and bounds in the field of nanotechnology. There are two main categories of examples that are helping to make what seemed like science fiction into science fact for our future.
The first category is solar.
Nanotechnology is leading the charge for solar energy. Imagine the paint on your house or a building acting as a solar panel? Or how about your car?
Chemistry professor Richard L. Brutchey from the University of Southern California and researcher David H. Webber successfully developed solar collecting paint by using solar-collecting nanocrystals. At only 4 nanometers in size, nanocrystals can float in a liquid solution.
So why isn’t this available in the market yet? Well, those nanocrystals were built with cadmium, which is a toxic metal. Researchers have been busy trying to find alternative materials and there are some really promising leads.
The second category is energy storage.
In one recent advancement in batteries from July 2020, scientists from Clemson Nanomaterials Institute were able to achieve high rate capability, fast diffusion, high capacity, and a long cycle life thanks to sandwiching silicon nanoparticles with carbon nanotubes called bucky papers. The cycle life for lithium batteries with silicon-based anodes is less than 100, but thanks to the new sandwiched silicon electrode structure they were able to achieve 500 cycles and deliver three times more capacity than graphite.
Silicon happens to have ten times higher capacity than graphite, but it expands by about 300 percent in volume as it absorbs ions. The end result is an anode that breaks apart.
This nanostructure counters this factor and would help us replace graphite with silicon so that our batteries can become safer and lighter.
Nanotechnology could also, potentially, turn bricks into batteries.
Washington University’s Institute of Materials Science & Engineering took work from their micro supercapacitor research using Fe2O3 (iron oxide – or rust) as a conducting polymer. So how does this possibility relate to bricks?
That red pigment in your classic brick is Fe2O3 (iron oxide – or rust). By applying their polymer process to a standard red brick, you end up with a capacitor. They estimate that it would take about 50 bricks to power an emergency lighting system for 5 hours, so this clearly isn’t going to power your entire house. But then again, a building is made up of thousands of bricks, so there’s a potential for a building’s brick walls to act as a massive supercapacitor to absorb solar panel overproduction, or to cover peak energy use to smooth out demand, and pair with battery storage in a hybrid setup.
We’re already seeing some of nanotechnologies’ benefits in the world around us today, but the research and advancements we’re seeing in the lab, like these, are what to look forward to for the future. Nanotech may have been an overused and blanket term that’s lost a little bit of it’s meaning to most of us, but there’s real progress being made.
This video was produced and published by Matt Ferrel. It was originally published on his YouTube channel “Undecided with Matt Ferrell.” It has been published here via partnership.