Nanotechnology to Power Your Car - dummies

By Earl Boysen, Nancy C. Muir, Desiree Dudley, Christine Peterson

The automotive industry is hot on the tail of nanotechnology. Nano will help automotive manufacturers power vehicles more cost effectively, while lessening the environmental impact.

Charge up your car with the sun

One of the companies using nanotechnology to develop low-cost solar cells has a way to make the paint on the outside of your car into one big solar cell.

Global Photonic Energy Corporation says that you can use a spray painting method to paint their solar cells onto a car or other places that use spray paint, such as cell phone cases. The paint can come in virtually any color. They want to license their PowerPaint solar cells to manufacturers, but so far, they haven’t announced which car manufacturer will be the first to use it.


Power electric and hybrid cars

Electric and hybrid cars are becoming more popular given the cost of a tank of gas. Nanotechnology can improve batteries by increasing the surface area of the electrodes, which allows the battery to store more charge.

Work by nanotech battery companies such as Altair Nanotechnologies and A123 Systems could improve the performance of lithium-ion batteries and may make electric cars even more appealing. Fisker Automotive says that its Karma plug-in hybrid car using A123’s Nanophosphate battery should be available in the spring of 2011 and will have an average mileage of 67 mpg. Pretty good mileage for a sports car!


Grasp the potential of hydrogen fuel cells

You may have heard talk about cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells replacing gasoline-powered cars, but don’t hold your breath. The major obstacles to widespread use of hydrogen fuel cell–powered cars in the next few years are the lack of a network of hydrogen fuel stations, the high cost of hydrogen fuel cells, and the need for lightweight and safe hydrogen fuel tanks.

Nanotechnology may help with the cost of fuel cells by using nanoparticle-based catalysts to reduce the amount of platinum required. In addition, because hydrogen bonds very strongly to carbon, lighter, safer fuel tanks can be made by using graphene, which has the largest amount of carbon atoms per weight on its surface of any material.

These hurdles mean that hydrogen fuel cell–powered cars won’t be your way around high gas prices next summer. The Department of Energy’s Hydrogen Program estimates that the start of mass market usage of hydrogen fuel cell cars won’t happen until 2020.