Report Says Nano Offers Best Hopes for Alternative Energy

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 12, 2005 2:06 pm    Post subject: Report Says Nano Offers Best Hopes for Alternative Energy Reply with quote

Breakthroughs in nanotechnology could open up the possibility of moving beyond the United States’s current alternatives for energy supply by introducing technologies that are more efficient, inexpensive, and environmentally sound, according to a new science policy study by Rice University.

The report, based on input from 50 leading U.S. scientists who gathered at Rice in May 2003, found that key contributions can be made in energy security and supply through fundamental research on nanoscience solutions to energy technologies. The group of experts concluded that a major nanoscience and energy research program should be aimed at long-term breakthrough possibilities in cleaner sources of energy, particularly solar energy. Such a program also should provide vital science backup to current technologies in the short term, including technologies for storing and transmitting electricity.

The study findings were announced as Congress and the Bush administration began another round of efforts to pass national energy legislation. “The 2003 energy bill effort was an amalgamation of giveaways to special-interest groups,” says Amy Myers Jaffe, the Wallace S. Wilson Fellow for Energy Studies at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and associate director of the Rice Energy Program and the Shell Center for Sustainability. “What is needed is a more focused debate that puts regional or parochial short-term interests aside and emphasizes our long-term national interests. The outlook is dire. We need real solutions.”

The participating scientists agreed that nanotechnology could revolutionize electricity grid technology by providing transmission lines built from carbon nanotubes that could conduct electricity across great distances without loss. A breakthrough in electricity transmission technology would facilitate not only distributed electricity but also render commercially viable the transmission of electricity from distant sources of energy, such as solar and wind collector farms located in desert geography or closed-loop clean coal FutureGen sequestration power plants built near geologic formations. Improvements in electricity transmission also would permit the transportation of electricity by wire from power stations built near stranded natural gas reserves in remote regions. Howard Schmidt, executive director of the Carbon Nanotechnology Laboratory at Rice, believes that development of carbon nanotube wire is possible within five years given adequate research and development funding.

“Energy is unique in its ability to give us answers to most other problems,” says Nobel laureate Richard Smalley. “And it is uniquely something we can do something about.” Smalley, University Professor and the Gene and Norman Hackerman Professor of Chemistry and professor of physics, notes that the Bush administration’s initiatives on energy technology are laudable, but the level of financial commitment is not large enough to achieve needed breakthroughs.

The meeting was hosted by the Baker Institute, Rice’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, the Environmental and Energy Systems Institute, and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship as part of an ongoing program on energy and nanotechnology that is aimed at reinvigorating public interest in the physical sciences by showcasing potentially revolutionary breakthroughs in the energy technology area and highlighting how science can have direct bearing on people’s lives.

Source: Rice University.

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