One of the great breakthroughs we expected from nanotechnology was abundant clean energy, and the plentiful supply of funds diverted towards companies such as Konarka and Nanosolar (and previously Nanosys) indicated that there was plenty ofopportunities in that sector. With the coming mania for Cleantech, we decided to take a look at nanotech and energy in a new report and white paper.
As usual the aim of the study was not to simply create another long list of applications of nanotechnologies that could or might have some impact on the energy sector, but to try to understand what applications will be coming onto the market in the next seven years and to make a realistic assessment of their impact.
We took a rather conservative view as most applications of nanotechnologies in this sector are running a few years late. If you have followed nanotech for a while, you may remember that NEC developed direct methanol fuel cells based on nanohorns back in 2001 and were supposed to have them on the market by 2004/5.
They haven’t been heard of since then (maybe concerns about airline security and current restrictions on liquids were the death knell for the half litre of methanol attached to the back of the laptop), and a historical analysis of forecasts for fuel cell use in general shows a history of wildly overoptimistic predictions.
The results were quite surprising. It turns out that many of the overhyped applications such as thin film solar or fuel cells will have relatively little impact between now and 2015, with solid state lighting, nanocomposite materials and aerogels used in insulation and the increasing use of fuel borne catalysts being the major winners. In fact, we predicy energy saving technologies to account for 77% of the energy related applications of nanotechnologies by 2014, up from 62% today.
Another interesting fact to emerge from the analysis was that 75% of the nanotech applications will be in the automotive sector, covering everything from using composites to save weight, catalysts to burn fuel more efficiently, and of course the use of fuel cells and hydrogen storage materials once they start to hit the market around 2010.
So overall, the smart money is on saving energy rather than generating it, at least that is where the money will be for the next five years.