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How Can Nanotechnology Save Energy?

travis and nicole
Travis Maness (animator), and Nicole Martin (narrator). Photo: Ashley Evans, Western Carolina University

Did you know you’re probably carrying nanotechnology in your pocket? The reason your smart phone is so ‘smart’ is because it contains billions of transistors, the switches behind modern computing. Billions fit in your pocket because they are about a dozen nanometers in size. Scientists’ and engineers’ ability to create and control materials at the nanoscale have already had a huge impact, but the potential for nanomaterials to save energy may truly change the world.

Nano-enabled materials such as graphene, carbon nanotubes, and architectured metamaterials, behave in surprising ways. Some nanomaterials are really strong (remember, graphene can stop a bullet) and durable but weigh very little, others can bounce back instead of shattering when compressed, and some conduct electricity better than copper.

Western Carolina University student animator Travis Maness “had no idea that there was anything being created at [the nano] scale or that it was even already being used in things we use every day.” What he found most surprising when he started to learn about nanotechnology “was the fact that when taking things down to the nanoscale even the most durable materials were made flexible and things that were fragile were made stronger.”

What do strong, durable, highly conductive nanomaterials have to do with cutting fossil fuel consumption and conserving energy? Watch How Can Nanotechnology Save Energy? and find out.

The heavier a plane, train, or automobile is, the more fuel is needed to get it where it’s going. More fuel means more emissions, more CO2. If one builds vehicles out of new materials that are as strong (if not stronger) as the ones used today but weigh a whole lot less then less fuel is needed, saving both oil and cutting emissions.

Weight isn’t the only place to save energy. The power lines that bring electricity to your home lose energy as heat. Carbon nanotube-based fibers are better at carrying electricity than the copper used today which means they lose less energy. That energy savings means a lot less coal and gas needs to be burned to bring you the same amount of power.

For more information on nanotechnology, visit nano.gov and check out the other videos from this series, What Can Nanotechnology Do for You? and How Will Nanotechnology Improve Your Health?

Article by: Dr. Quinn Spadola, AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow in the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office.