The Rise of Nanotechnology in the Energy Sector

By on June 11, 2012
Posted In Renewables

by Carey C. Jordan, Iona Kaiser and Valerie C. Moore, Ph.D.

President Obama’s 2011 Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future presented a goal of deriving at least 80 percent of our electricity from clean energy sources by 2035. To make this goal a reality, clean energy sources like wind, solar, biomass and hydropower have to be viable. 

An important enabling technology for making such clean energy sources viable in this timeframe is nanotechnology.  Nanotechnology is an enabling technology for efficient and effective energy generation, storage, transmission and conservation because of the unique properties of matter that can be exploited at the nanoscale.  For example, the high surface area of nanoparticles has been useful in the improving battery lifetime and ultracapacitor speed power delivery.  The unique light absorption and conversion properties of nanoparticles can be exploited for increasing the efficiency of solar cells as well.  Carbon nanotubes are being used to develop power transmission cables that are more corrosion-resistant than copper wires with lower electrical resistance because of their electronic properties and chemical robustness, which translates to cost savings.  When employed in vehicle wiring, the carbon nanotube wires, because of the reduced weight, have the potential to greatly increase fuel efficiency.

To understand the global and regional trends nanotechnology innovation in the energy sector, we analyzed the associated patent literature and have compiled our results in the white paper that can be found at https://www.mwe.com/Nanotechnology-05-30-2012/.   Although the U.S. is the global leader, Asian countries have increased their relative patent activity over the past six years.  While companies in the computers and electronics sector are the most prevalent in the nanotechnology patent landscape, innovation within the energy and chemical sectors are on the rise. 

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