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Improve Energy Generation, Distribution, and Storage with Nanotechnology

One of the fathers of nanotechnology, Dr. Richard Smalley, believed that nanotechnology might help provide a solution to the growing energy demands of the world. According to Smalley:

“Energy is the single most important problem facing humanity today — not just in the U.S. but also worldwide. The magnitude of this problem is incredible. Energy is the largest enterprise on Earth — by a large margin. While conservation efforts will help the worldwide energy situation, the problem by mid-century will be inadequate supply.”

Nanotechnology can help address this huge challenge by improving the way energy is generated, distributed, and stored. Smalley’s vision of how nanotechnology could improve our energy challenges is playing out before our eyes. Today, nanotechnologists are exploring the role of nanotechnology in making energy more efficient in three key areas:

  • Energy generation: Improvements in the generation of energy consist of solar cells that cost less and are more efficient and the production of new materials for more efficient fuel cells. Because solar cells and fuel cells have traditionally been costly to produce and use, these efficiencies could make them both finally practical.

  • Electricity distribution: Very low resistance electric transmission wires could improve electricity distribution. These wires would contain carbon nanotubes, which have significantly less resistance than conventional wires. This more efficient distribution grid would allow electricity generated at power plants to be transported thousands of miles with very little power loss.

    As a result, power could be generated at the most logical sites; for example, solar power in deserts, geothermal power at geyser locations, and wind power in mountain passes.

  • Energy storage: The use of more efficient batteries has improved the storage of energy. Improved batteries or other devices, such as ultracapacitors, could be used to store energy locally for as long as 24 hours. The capability to store energy locally would allow communities or individuals to buy power at the cheapest time of day and to never again suffer from those annoying short-term power outages.

If you’re interested in learning more about Smalley and his vision of nanotechnology, check out this video on YouTube.

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