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December 5th, 2007
The public image of nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter at the atomic or molecular scale, has suffered in recent years.
One commentator called it "grey goo" and it has been suggested some nano-particles may be carcinogenic. It is the subject of several official inquiries around the world.
On the other hand, it has become increasingly apparent that nanotechnology could have an important role to play in healing, not harming, the planet. It is already being used to solve environmental issues, such as the generation of clean power.
Carbon-based fuel reserves appear insufficient to meet demand, and may have too great an impact on the climate to be viable. So cleaner energies are required, such as solar power. But solar energy is not yet competitive with oil, gas and nuclear, costing up to $5 a watt. Nanotechnology could enable the manufacture of solar panels based on plastics instead of silicon. This would lower production costs and make the cost of solar power just $2 a watt.
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