We go on with our 2021 editorial line on past & present disruptors and their influence in the present of energy. This month, we have dedicated our post to Richard Feynman and his research and future vision on nanotechnology.
To talk about this subject, we have interviewed Hüseyin Alagöz, Chief Programs Officer at the company Nanografi Nano Teknoloji. He gave us a vision on how nanotechnology can be applied to renewable energies.
A quick question just to get into the subject, could you explain to our public what is nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology is the design, characterization, production, and application of structures, devices, and systems by controlled manipulation of size and shape at the nanometre scale (atomic, molecular, and macromolecular scale) that produces structures, devices, and systems with at least one novel/superior characteristic or property.
Although in the natural world there are many examples of structures that exist with nanometre dimensions (hereafter referred to as the nanoscale), including essential molecules within the human body and components of foods, and although many technologies have incidentally involved nanoscale structures for many years, it has only been in the last quarter of the 20th century that it has been possible to actively and intentionally modify molecules and structures within this size range. It is this control at the nanometre scale that distinguishes nanotechnology from other areas of technology.
At Norvento, we develop solar, wind, bioenergy and hydro installations, how can nanotechnology benefit these renewable energy projects?
Nanotechnology can be used to improve renewable energy sources; for example, wind energy efficiency can be improved by using light, more strength nanomaterials for rotor blades. In bioenergy using nano-based precision farming to optimize crop used to produce biofuels. Nano-coatings can be used to prevent the corrosion in tidal energy equipment, while nanocomposites are utilized to make drilling machines in geothermal energy more fatigue-resistance.
Nanostructured catalysts are used to increase the efficiency of fuel cells while porous nanomaterials are used for hydrogen storage. Nanofluids enhance the heat transfer efficiency of solar collectors while quantum dots and carbon nanotubes increase the energy absorption properties of solar cells. Nanotechnology enables the development of portable energy systems as well as large-scale systems with high-efficiency. The development of cost-effective renewable energy systems will contribute to the urgent energy goals of our world and reduce the destructive effect of human activities.
The big challenge in using solar energy devices is that the clear weakness in the absorption properties of the conventional fluids which leads to reduce the efficiency of these devices. Nowadays, this problem can be solved easily and effectively by using the concept of nanotechnology. The increased surface area to volume ratio of nanoparticles should enhance solar energy collection and efficiency by exposing more conducting surfaces to the sunlight. Another area that nanotechnology will increase solar cell efficiency is by using materials like lead-selenide. These materials cause more electrons (and therefore more electricity) to be released when hit by a photon of light.
Wind energy rotates a turbine to generate electricity. One of the factors affecting the production capacity of these systems is the state of the system against mechanical loading. By using carbon nanotubes, both lighter and more durable materials can be used in these systems and the efficiency of the system can be increased.
Nanotechnology mainly focuses on the catalysis of biomass conversion reactions and reducing gas emissions. For example, nanosized cerium oxide additives in biodiesel reduce hydrocarbons and NOx emissions. Metal oxide nanoparticles, zero valence nanoparticles, and carbon-based nanoparticles are experimentally used in anaerobic digestion processes to enhance the efficiency of the biodiesel production process. Carbon-based catalysts also have potential use in biodiesel production.
We are undergoing an energy transition, energy storage is a key component if we want to reach 100% renewable energy, does nanotechnology have any application in this field?
The global primary energy generation in the 100% renewable energy system will consist of the following mix of energy sources: solar energy (69%), wind power (18%), hydro (3%), bioenergy (6%) and geothermal energy (2%).
Renewable energy is the most promising source of energy to reduce fossil fuel consumption. However, the improvement of renewable energy systems is necessary to compete against fossil fuels. Nanotechnology provides solutions to the most important problems of renewable energy systems. The low efficiency of renewable energy systems can be improved through the use of nanomaterials. Moreover, the reduced size of energy systems would allow the production of lighter and portable devices. The development of cost-efficient green energy applications will open the gates of a sustainable future for our world. All in all, nanotechnology has the potential to change the fate of renewable energy systems for the better.
Insulating materials produced with nanotechnology save 30% more energy than traditional materials. These insulation materials are used by squeezing between solid panels or as a thin film on any surface. The efficiency of fuel cells can be increased by using hydrogen sensors and nanotechnological membranes. Thanks to nanomaterials, the efficiency of wind panels and solar cells is increased. Storage rate can be increased thanks to nanostructures in hydrogen storage. Losses in power transmission lines and transmission cables can be minimized. In addition, energy savings are provided by nanomaterials with high insulation ability.
Now, everyone, from Governments to scientists and companies, talk about hydrogen as the future of energy, could nanotechnology also have a role in hydrogen applications?
Storing hydrogen is a challenging task since it requires high pressures and low temperatures to liquefy. Other approaches to hydrogen storage are the chemisorption and physisorption processes. Nanotechnology can improve the efficiency of both applications. Physisorption is the physical adsorption of molecules through weak interactions between adsorber and adsorbent. The efficiency of physisorption is enhanced due to the high surface area and porosity of nanomaterials. Carbon-based nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes, carbon nanofibers, carbon aerogels, and two-dimensional graphene networks are commonly used nanomaterials in physisorption. In addition to carbon-based nanostructures; metal-organic frameworks, boron-nitrogen-based materials (BN nanomaterials), and organic polymer networks are investigated materials for H2 storage via physisorption. In chemisorption, hydrogen is chemically bonded into a hydride. The most important problem with chemisorption is the slow desorption process. This problem can be eliminated by the nanostructuring of hydrides. Metal/alloy nanostructures, particularly MgH2 nanoparticles, are commonly used for this process.
Is there any other nanotechnology innovation under development that will have an application in the renewable energy sector in a future?
Yes, there are many nanotechnology innovations under development. For example, in solar energy, Nanoparticle-based Coating for High Efficiency CSP Plants are under development. In wind energy, there are many work for Carbon Nanotubes for Prolonging Turbine Lifetime and Nanolubricants for Gear Systems and Heavy Machinery that are still under development.