Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Press > Could blue jean dye and white house paint solve the energy crisis?

Abstract:
Imagine coating the roof of your house with a paint that absorbs energy from the sun - and lets you use that energy to power your television, computer or toaster.

Could blue jean dye and white house paint solve the energy crisis?

Evanston, IL | Posted on February 21st, 2008

Northwestern chemistry professor Mark Ratner hopes that one day you'll be able to do just that with a can of paint he calls "a battery in a jar."

The technology would use tiny nanostructures to convert sunlight into energy, similarly to the process of photosynthesis in plants.

It's just one application of nanotechnology to the energy problem, Ratner said Wednesday night at the monthly Science Café event in Evanston. His talk covered the science behind innovations that could provide clean and efficient energy alternatives.

The problem of scale

With oil prices topping $100 a barrel this week, and recent studies suggesting ethanol and other plant-based fuels may be worse for the environment than conventional fuels, pressure is growing to find a better solution.

"The real issue is that there are a lot of us. There are six billion of us. And there are going to be more. And that means that no little solutions are really very interesting," Ratner said.

Wind and geothermal power can provide clean energy, but not enough of it. "As wonderful as it would be to have a windmill in everybody's back yard generating energy for their house, that's not going to do it for the Earth," Ratner said. "There isn't enough energy that way."

For a solution to be truly effective, it must be scalable. That is, it must produce enough energy to meet the world's needs - especially considering the rapid growth of countries like India and China.

"They are going to be where we are in a few years," he said. "And if India and China use energy the way we use energy, then it's going to get hard to breathe, and the polar bears are going to have a rough time, and the seas are going to get warmer, and the coral reefs are going to die, and it's going to be a different world."

A new kind of solar panel

So what is the best scalable energy source? The sun, Ratner said.

"Coal, oil, wind, biomass - all that energy is originally solar energy," he said. "The energy came here from the sun. And leaves, which are nanostructures, turned it into the kinds of energy that we use today."

Scientists are now trying to design solar panels using nanostructures that work like leaves, but better. The goal is 30 percent efficiency in converting sunlight into power - much higher than the efficiency of biofuels.

"The corn organism is 3 percent efficient in harvesting the energy of the sun," Ratner said. "You've got to do better than that." Miscanthus grass, another source of biofuel, is less than 5 percent efficient.

While conventional solar panels made from silicon are about 18 percent efficient, "the cost involved in making them is so high," he said, "that they'd have to run for several years just to pay back the energy cost in making them."

Nanostructures, on the other hand, would use inexpensive materials to capture sunlight. That's where the blue jeans and house paint come in.

In artificial photosynthesis, you need a molecule to absorb the sunlight, but not any molecule will do. (See accompanying video for an explanation of how photosynthesis works.)

"The molecules that we probably want to use are related to the blue jean dye that you've got," Ratner said. "It's a planar molecule, it has the right shape and it has the right energy properties."

The dye is called a thalocyanine and is also found in shoe polish.

Once the molecules capture solar energy, that energy must be stored somewhere - otherwise, it will be given off as heat. White house paint contains titanium dioxide, and when mixed with the dye molecules, titanium dioxide holds on to the energy the dye collects.

Turning concept into reality

The next challenge is to develop the right kind of wire to get the energy back out of the paint and dye mixture.

"Right now, that's a bottleneck," Ratner said. "Nobody's found the right wire to be compatible with this whole thing."

The titanium dioxide in paint has been shown to be up to 12 percent efficient in capturing energy, but there's still a long way to go.

"When you design a solar energy system, the important point is the word ‘system.' It's not like taking an aspirin, which does one thing and, you know, it's great," he said. "This has to capture the energy, separate the charges, hold the charges, recombine the charges and do it all efficiently. And do it in a way that's sustainable and do it in a way that won't break anything. So you have to be able to use it at least 500 million times in order for it to be practical."

So will the solar panel paint ever be developed?

"I actually have a little bit of money from the U.S. government to do exactly that," Ratner said. "They're interested in, for example, [paint-powered] remote sensors. They would like to power a sensor that's out in the middle of the desert somewhere trying to count neutrons. Or they would like to [use it to] power a sensor that's on the highway seeing how fast you're driving."

####

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Chicago Newsroom
105 W. Adams St., Suite 200 Chicago, IL 60603

News Desk(312) 503-4100
(312) 503-4200
(312) 503-4040 (Fax)

Mindy Trossman
Director of Medill News Service
(312) 503-0778

Copyright © Northwestern University

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

News and information

Particles from outer space are wreaking low-grade havoc on personal electronics February 19th, 2017

Liquid metal nano printing set to revolutionize electronics: Creating integrated circuits just atoms thick February 18th, 2017

Engineers shrink microscope to dime-sized device February 17th, 2017

Francis Alexander Named Deputy Director of Brookhaven Lab's Computational Science Initiative February 16th, 2017

Videos/Movies

Graphene foam gets big and tough: Rice University's nanotube-reinforced material can be shaped, is highly conductive February 13th, 2017

First ever blueprint unveiled to construct a large scale quantum computer February 3rd, 2017

The shape of melting in two dimensions: University of Michigan team uses Titan to explore fundamental phase transitions February 2nd, 2017

Metallic hydrogen, once theory, becomes reality: Harvard physicists succeed in creating 'the holy grail of high-pressure physics' January 28th, 2017

Possible Futures

Particles from outer space are wreaking low-grade havoc on personal electronics February 19th, 2017

Liquid metal nano printing set to revolutionize electronics: Creating integrated circuits just atoms thick February 18th, 2017

Engineers shrink microscope to dime-sized device February 17th, 2017

Research opens door to smaller, cheaper, more agile communications tech February 16th, 2017

Announcements

Particles from outer space are wreaking low-grade havoc on personal electronics February 19th, 2017

Liquid metal nano printing set to revolutionize electronics: Creating integrated circuits just atoms thick February 18th, 2017

Engineers shrink microscope to dime-sized device February 17th, 2017

Francis Alexander Named Deputy Director of Brookhaven Lab's Computational Science Initiative February 16th, 2017

Interviews/Book Reviews/Essays/Reports/Podcasts/Journals/White papers

Particles from outer space are wreaking low-grade havoc on personal electronics February 19th, 2017

Liquid metal nano printing set to revolutionize electronics: Creating integrated circuits just atoms thick February 18th, 2017

Engineers shrink microscope to dime-sized device February 17th, 2017

Research opens door to smaller, cheaper, more agile communications tech February 16th, 2017

Energy

In-cell molecular sieve from protein crystal February 14th, 2017

NREL research pinpoints promise of polycrystalline perovskites February 8th, 2017

Metallic hydrogen, once theory, becomes reality: Harvard physicists succeed in creating 'the holy grail of high-pressure physics' January 28th, 2017

New low-cost technique converts bulk alloys to oxide nanowires January 24th, 2017

Home

Chemists Cook up New Nanomaterial and Imaging Method: Nanomaterials can store all kinds of things, including energy, drugs and other cargo January 19th, 2017

Industrial Nanotech, Inc. Announces Plans to Spin Off New Product Line to Major Paint Compan November 9th, 2016

New flexible material can make any window 'smart' August 23rd, 2016

Industrial Nanotech, Inc. Provides Shareholder Update August 22nd, 2016

Industrial

Liquid metal nano printing set to revolutionize electronics: Creating integrated circuits just atoms thick February 18th, 2017

First ever blueprint unveiled to construct a large scale quantum computer February 3rd, 2017

Chemists Cook up New Nanomaterial and Imaging Method: Nanomaterials can store all kinds of things, including energy, drugs and other cargo January 19th, 2017

New laser based on unusual physics phenomenon could improve telecommunications, computing January 12th, 2017

Solar/Photovoltaic

Material can turn sunlight, heat and movement into electricity -- all at once: Extracting energy from multiple sources could help power wearable technology February 9th, 2017

NREL research pinpoints promise of polycrystalline perovskites February 8th, 2017

A big nano boost for solar cells: Kyoto University and Osaka Gas effort doubles current efficiencies January 21st, 2017

Chemists Cook up New Nanomaterial and Imaging Method: Nanomaterials can store all kinds of things, including energy, drugs and other cargo January 19th, 2017

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoTech-Transfer
University Technology Transfer & Patents
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project