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Nanotechnology to mitigate energy and environment issues

Published by under Energy,Environment Sciences,Nanotechnology,News categories on March 24, 2010

Polar bear on lacking small piece of icebergNew researches in nanotechnology will convert pollutant carbon CO2 into fuel and other useful products, which would help to cover energy demand and support environment cleaning by removing CO2 from atmosphere, therefore providing climate change mitigation technologies.

Nanotechnology solutions will : convert CO2 into chemicals that would be used in fuel cells for mobile phones and other devices; produce vehicle fuels from CO2 using an ‘artificial leaf’ concept; remove CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into useful products such as polymers, carbohydrates or fuels.

Catalytic reactor

University College London scientists will work to mimic biological systems and produce a catalytic reactor that can convert CO2 into useful chemicals for applications such as fuel cells in laptops, phones and other devices.

The reactor will use novel nano-catalysts based on compounds formed in warm springs on the ocean floor that are considered to have triggered the emergence of life. The team’s design will take inspiration from biological systems that can carry out complex processes to convert CO2 into biological material, and exploit a wide range of computational and experimental chemistry techniques.

Professor De Leeuw says: “If we were able to emulate nature and convert CO2 into useful products without having to use large amounts of energy, the benefits would be enormous. One of the major gases responsible for climate change would become an important raw material for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.”

Artificial leaf

At Imperial College London and University College London a research team will reduce CO2 with hydrogen, electrical energy or photon energy to produce vehicle fuels.

To achieve this, they will develop nanostructured catalysts that operate using solar or other renewable energy inputs. These will be used in a process that mimics CO2 activation in nature – an ‘artificial leaf’ concept – that effectively reverses the polluting process of burning fossil fuels.

Dr Williams, of Imperial College London, says: “The key economic issue lies in decreasing the energy required for the processes. We hope to achieve this by developing new, highly active metal/metal oxide nanostructured catalysts, which offer superior performance.”

Carbon lock-in

The Universities of Bath, Bristol and the West of England are working together to produce materials that can remove CO2 from the atmosphere and lock it into useful products.

At the heart of the project will be a one-step process that links catalysts directly with a novel CO2 absorber, and is powered by solar or an alternative renewable energy source. The resulting ‘carbon lock-in’ products include polymers, carbohydrates or fuels.

Dr Marken says: “Current processes rely on using separate technology to capture and utilise the CO2, which makes the process very inefficient. By combining the processes the efficiency can be improved and the energy required to drive the CO2 reduction is minimised.”

The projects are part of Research Councils UK (RCUK) cross-Council programme ‘Nanoscience: through Engineering to Application’. http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/nano

The new technologies and materials produced by the research could create a new branch of manufacturing with worldwide distribution of carbon capture devices, and a new mechanism for carbon credit trading.

Last week the Department for Business Innovation and Skills published a cross-departmental strategy, ‘UK Nanotechnologies Strategy: Opportunities Ahead’, which stated that the global market in nanotechnologies is expected to grow from US$2.3 billion in 2007 to US$81 billion in 2015


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