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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > NanotechnologyKTN > Exploring electronic developments in Green Technology

Fiona Brewer

Exploring electronic developments in Green Technology
Dr Martin Kemp, Materials Theme Manager, Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network (NanoKTN)

April 9th, 2009

Exploring electronic developments in Green Technology

The last year has seen worldwide investments into clean energy rise by 4.4% and in 2008 inward investment exceeded US$150billion for the first time. It is clear that next generation energy will have an impact on both static and mobile applications and nanotechnology holds the promise to provide a significant number of advances in clean and renewable energy. In order to see real commercial successes in this area, networking and interaction between all parts of the supply chain is essential.

On March 4th 2009, the NanoKTN hosted Nano4Energy in partnership with the Carbon Trust, a one-day conference in Nottingham to look at the commercialisation of nanotechnologies in the development of clean, next generation energy solutions. Manufacturers, industry professionals and investors came together at the conference to look at nano-applications with significant potential such as batteries, supercapacitors, and next generation photovoltaics.

A diverse selection of presentations from UK technology start-ups, showed the exciting potential of nanotechnology to develop new and ground-breaking devices. Presentations looked at the developments of nano-electronics in recent years, an area that has now been recognised as a fast and powerful means of advancing green technology.

Keynote speakers explored a number of green energy solutions and nanoelectrical products including energy efficient batteries, electrochemical reactions and nanoscaled technology such as quantum dots.

Michael Edelman, CEO of Nanoco Technologies Ltd (Nanoco) outlined the pioneering work the company is carrying out with quantum dots, enabling the production of cheaper, more efficient electronic devices using printable fluorescent semiconductors.

Quantum dots are semiconductor nanoparticles of II-VI, III-V, or IV-VI chalcogenides (selenides or sulfides) of metals like cadmium or zinc (CdSe or ZnS), Their small size (about 50 atoms across) produces novel electrical and optical properties not seen in the bulk material. One such property is photon emission, the colour of which depends not on the material but on the particle size.

Quantum dots were typically between two and ten nanometres in diameter but are now more commonly less than one nanometer. The larger quamtum dots required low temperatures to maintain control but the newer, smaller dots are stable to mechanical impact as well as high temperatures.

The flexible and unique characteristics of quantum dots makes them critical to electrical circuits and optical applications. The electrical conductivity of a quantum dot can be altered via an external stimulus such as voltage or photon flux and the size means the materials behave differently, giving quantom dots the ability to behave in ways not seen in electronic science and technology applications before.

Industry professionals are encouraging the use of quantom dots as they are highly efficient when used in both optical and electronic devices as they consume low levels of energy and considerably reduce manufacturing costs.

Nanoco is continually working with major R&D and blue-chip industrial organisations, to develop applications incorporating semiconductor nanoparticles and quantum dots. Nanoco and its partners are already using quantum dots in a range of energy efficient, next generation electronic applications such as photovoltaics, displays and solid state lighting. They are also commercially available in solid state lighting, QD-EL displays, solar cells and developing areas of biotech.

Downsizing dimensions in electronic devices can offer improvements in both performance and production costs. When scientists learn to adapt the properties created as a result of micro technology production, to industries producing environmentally friendly and green technology, new levels of performance and energy efficient technology will exist.

Bac2, a leading developer in the fuel cell and electronic industries, recently launched a low-cost polymer called ElectroPhen™ that has electrically conductive properties due to its nanoscaled electro-active hybrid polymer matrix. The patented material is formulated from readily available raw materials and the nanostructure can be chemically fine tuned to give a range of electrical conductivity for an array of potential applications. Unusually, the conductivity increases with increasing temperature, opening significant new opportunities.

As well as continuing R&D into applications for electronics and alternative power solutions, Bac2 is pursuing near-term commercialisation in the area of fuel cell components. Fuel cells convert hydrogen into electricity through a theoretically simple, yet implementationally challenging electrochemical reaction. A fuel cell's chemical environment places demands on its components' materials and to become economically viable in automotive drive-train, consumer electronics and off-grid power generation, component costs must be minimised. Bac2's ElectroPhen™ is a key enabler in this process.

Nanomaterials are already starting to have an impact on the green energy technology sector. Nanostructured solar cells based on thin film, or dye sensitised titania will open new possibilities for low cost large area printed photvoltaics. Energy harvesting of heat will be possible using materials based on diamond, and hydrogen will be stored for fuel cells in solid state by using novel materials like carbon nanotubes or graphene. As Richard Feynmann famously said in 1959 - ‘there's plenty of room at the bottom'.

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