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

Unraveling the crystal structure of a -70° Celsius superconductor, a world first: Significant advancement in the realization of room-temperature superconductors August 25th, 2016

Stretchy supercapacitors power wearable electronics August 25th, 2016

AIM Photonics Announces Release of Process Design Kit (PDK) for Integrated Silicon Photonics Design August 25th, 2016

Semblant to Present at China Mobile Manufacturing Forum 2016 August 25th, 2016

Videos/Movies

50 years after the release of the film 'Fantastic Voyage,' science upstages fiction: Science upstages fiction with nanorobotic agents designed to travel in the human body to treat cancer August 25th, 2016

Scientists uncover origin of high-temperature superconductivity in copper-oxide compound: Analysis of thousands of samples reveals that the compound becomes superconducting at an unusually high temperature because local electron pairs form a 'superfluid' that flows without resist August 19th, 2016

Argonne discovery yields self-healing diamond-like carbon August 7th, 2016

Diamond-based light sources will lay a foundation for quantum communications of the future: Electrified quantum diamond can become the heart of quantum networks and computers of the future August 7th, 2016

Possible Futures

Nanofiber scaffolds demonstrate new features in the behavior of stem and cancer cells August 25th, 2016

Nanofur for oil spill cleanup: Materials researchers learn from aquatic ferns: Hairy plant leaves are highly oil-absorbing / publication in bioinspiration & biomimetics / video on absorption capacity August 25th, 2016

Johns Hopkins scientists track metabolic pathways to find drug combination for pancreatic cancer August 25th, 2016

New electrical energy storage material shows its power: Nanomaterial combines attributes of both batteries and supercapacitors August 25th, 2016

Announcements

Analog DNA circuit does math in a test tube: DNA computers could one day be programmed to diagnose and treat disease August 25th, 2016

Silicon nanoparticles trained to juggle light: Research findings prove the capabilities of silicon nanoparticles for flexible data processing in optical communication systems August 25th, 2016

Johns Hopkins scientists track metabolic pathways to find drug combination for pancreatic cancer August 25th, 2016

New electrical energy storage material shows its power: Nanomaterial combines attributes of both batteries and supercapacitors August 25th, 2016

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

Analog DNA circuit does math in a test tube: DNA computers could one day be programmed to diagnose and treat disease August 25th, 2016

Silicon nanoparticles trained to juggle light: Research findings prove the capabilities of silicon nanoparticles for flexible data processing in optical communication systems August 25th, 2016

New approach to determining how atoms are arranged in materials August 25th, 2016

New electrical energy storage material shows its power: Nanomaterial combines attributes of both batteries and supercapacitors August 25th, 2016

Energy

New electrical energy storage material shows its power: Nanomaterial combines attributes of both batteries and supercapacitors August 25th, 2016

Lehigh engineer discovers a high-speed nano-avalanche: New findings published in the Journal of Electrochemical Society about the process involving transformations in glass that occur under intense electrical and thermal conditions could lead the way to more energy-efficient glas August 24th, 2016

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

Researchers reduce expensive noble metals for fuel cell reactions August 22nd, 2016

Home

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 Nanotech, Inc. Expands Distribution Network in US and Internationally May 9th, 2016

Industrial

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

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

Let's roll: Material for polymer solar cells may lend itself to large-area processing: 'Sweet spot' for mass-producing polymer solar cells may be far larger than dictated by the conventional wisdom August 12th, 2016

Quantum dots with impermeable shell: A powerful tool for nanoengineering August 12th, 2016

Solar/Photovoltaic

Let's roll: Material for polymer solar cells may lend itself to large-area processing: 'Sweet spot' for mass-producing polymer solar cells may be far larger than dictated by the conventional wisdom August 12th, 2016

NREL technique leads to improved perovskite solar cells August 11th, 2016

Making a solar energy conversion breakthrough with help from a ferroelectrics pioneer: Philadelphia-based team shows how a ferroelectric insulator can surpass shockley-queisser limit August 9th, 2016

Tiny high-performance solar cells turn power generation sideways August 5th, 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







Car Brands
Buy website traffic