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

National Space Society Congratulates SpaceX on the Falcon 9's Return to Flight January 19th, 2017

Eric Berger Wins the National Space Society's 2017 Space Pioneer Award for Mass Media January 19th, 2017

Nanometrics to Announce Fourth Quarter and Full Year Financial Results on February 7, 2017 January 19th, 2017

'5-D protein fingerprinting' could give insights into Alzheimer's, Parkinson's January 19th, 2017

Videos/Movies

Manchester scientists tie the tightest knot ever achieved January 13th, 2017

Captured on video: DNA nanotubes build a bridge between 2 molecular posts: Research may lead to new lines of direct communication with cells January 9th, 2017

Researchers design one of the strongest, lightest materials known: Porous, 3-D forms of graphene developed at MIT can be 10 times as strong as steel but much lighter January 7th, 2017

The researchers created a tiny laser using nanoparticles January 5th, 2017

Possible Futures

National Space Society Congratulates SpaceX on the Falcon 9's Return to Flight January 19th, 2017

'5-D protein fingerprinting' could give insights into Alzheimer's, Parkinson's January 19th, 2017

Strength of hair inspires new materials for body armor January 18th, 2017

Self-assembling particles brighten future of LED lighting January 18th, 2017

Announcements

National Space Society Congratulates SpaceX on the Falcon 9's Return to Flight January 19th, 2017

Eric Berger Wins the National Space Society's 2017 Space Pioneer Award for Mass Media January 19th, 2017

Nanometrics to Announce Fourth Quarter and Full Year Financial Results on February 7, 2017 January 19th, 2017

'5-D protein fingerprinting' could give insights into Alzheimer's, Parkinson's January 19th, 2017

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

'5-D protein fingerprinting' could give insights into Alzheimer's, Parkinson's January 19th, 2017

Strength of hair inspires new materials for body armor January 18th, 2017

Self-assembling particles brighten future of LED lighting January 18th, 2017

Dressing a metal in various colors: DGIST research developed a technology to coat metal with several nanometers of semiconducting materials January 17th, 2017

Energy

Dressing a metal in various colors: DGIST research developed a technology to coat metal with several nanometers of semiconducting materials January 17th, 2017

Stability challenge in perovskite solar cell technology: New research reveals intrinsic instability issues of iodine-containing perovskite solar cells December 26th, 2016

Nanoscale 'conversations' create complex, multi-layered structures: New technique leverages controlled interactions across surfaces to create self-assembled materials with unprecedented complexity December 22nd, 2016

Safe and inexpensive hydrogen production as a future energy source: Osaka University researchers develop efficient 'green' hydrogen production system that operates at room temperature in air December 21st, 2016

Home

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

Lucintel identifies and prioritizes opportunities for alumina trihydrate (ATH) fillers in the global composites industry August 3rd, 2016

Industrial

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

Supersonic spray yields new nanomaterial for bendable, wearable electronics: Film of self-fused nanowires clear as glass, conducts like metal November 23rd, 2016

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

Forge Nano raises $20 million in Series A Funding: Nano coating technology innovator Forge Nano will use funding to expand manufacturing capacity and grow Lithium-Ion battery opportunities November 3rd, 2016

Solar/Photovoltaic

Dressing a metal in various colors: DGIST research developed a technology to coat metal with several nanometers of semiconducting materials January 17th, 2017

Stability challenge in perovskite solar cell technology: New research reveals intrinsic instability issues of iodine-containing perovskite solar cells December 26th, 2016

Going green with nanotechnology December 21st, 2016

Research Study: MetaSOLTM Shatters Solar Panel Efficiency Forecasts with Innovative New Coating: Coating Provides 1.2 Percent Absolute Enhancement to Triple Junction Solar Cells December 2nd, 2016

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