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Nanotechnology Contributions to Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation

From windmills to biodiesel, nanotechnology researchers are exploring some very interesting ways of contributing to renewable energy and energy conservation using recent developments in nanomaterials:

  • Increasing the electricity generated by windmills: An epoxy containing carbon nanotubes is being used to make stronger and lower-weight windmill blades. The resulting longer blades increase the amount of electricity generated by each windmill.

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  • Generating electricity from waste heat: Researchers have used sheets of nanotubes to build thermocells that generate electricity when the sides of the cells are at different temperatures. These nanotube sheets could be wrapped around hot pipes, such as the exhaust pipe of your car, to generate electricity from heat that is usually wasted.

  • Clothing that generates electricity: Researchers have developed piezoelectric nanofibers that are flexible enough to be woven into clothing. When piezoelectric material is compressed or expanded, it generates an electrical current. The fibers can turn normal motion into electricity to power a cell phone and other mobile electronic devices.

  • Making biodiesel from algae: Algae plants are largely composed of oil. Conventional methods to extract the oil crushed the algae, requiring replanting and growth from scratch.

    Researchers at Iowa State University, the U.S. Department of Energy Ames Laboratory, and a company called Catilinare are developing a method to remove the oil from the algae without destroying the plants, allowing the algae to continue producing oil for another harvest. These researchers use nanoparticles with many pores to soak up the oil like a sponge. This oil can then be processed to make biodiesel.

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