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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > NanotechnologyKTN > Nano4Energy - clean, next generation energy solutions

Fiona Brewer

On 30th June , the NanoKTN hosted its second Nano4Energy conference in association with the Carbon Trust. The conference, which took placed at the University of Birmingham, looked at new developments in nanotechnology within energy generation and energy storage. The event featured presentations from leading industry professionals and case study discussions on technologies nearing commercialisation, from the companies leading the way in the movement of clean, next generation energy solutions.

September 20th, 2010

Nano4Energy - clean, next generation energy solutions

Last year saw 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 a huge impact across a number of markets and nanotechnology holds the promise to provide a significant number of advances in clean and renewable energy.

A diverse selection of presentations from UK businesses, showed the exciting potential of nanotechnology to develop new and ground-breaking devices. These presentations looked at the recent developments of new technologies and their contribution to advancing green energy solutions.

Dr Andrew Creeth, Chief Technology Officer, ACAL Energy Ltd
FlowCath Technology - The Fuel Cell Engine for the 21st Century

Backed by venture funding led by the Carbon Trust, ACAL Energy Ltd is a leading developer of low cost Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells, powered by the company's proprietary platinum free cathode technology (FlowCath®).

ACAL Energy is currently developing fuel cell modules, fuel cell engines and advances in the chemistry behind the catalyst system for a range of applications requiring greater than 1 kW of power, including back-up and remote power - replacing diesel gen-sets and battery technology - and ultimately automotive applications. The substantial cost savings and performance improvements have already showed promise of accelerating the adoption of PEM Fuel Cell technology.

Fuel Cells are an electrochemical system that converts chemical energy to electrical power directly. The technology has already been labelled as the likely leading energy source of the 21st century in a range of applications such as transport, stationary power and even laptop computers.

By creating a system that challenges the oxygen electrode (cathode), ACAL Energy has created a system that has demonstrated the potential to provide substantial cost savings, system simplification and durability advantages for PEM fuel cells. By the use of a liquid-based cathode, the need for precious metal catalysts on the cathode is removed, a simpler balance of plant is required (eg innate cooling system by the liquid), and the major durability issues for the standard system are avoided all together.

ACAL Energy's presentation looked at the company's technology that has been scaled up to the 1-2 kW scale, with the assembly of prototype systems. Dr Creeth confirmed that the next stage is to develop evaluation units for sale for potential customers and also to place units in application sites such as the peroxide plant at Solvay in Warrington.

Further information about ACAL Energy's solutions can be found at

Bill Campbell, Chief Executive Officer, Nanotecture
Nanoporous Materials - a Major Advance in Supercapacitors

Nanotecture Ltd, a spin-out from the University of Southampton, uses a liquid crystal templating technique to manufacture nanoporous materials for battery electrodes and supercapacitors. The company specialises in electrochemistry and nanotechnology support applications for the efficient storage and delivery of electrical energy - an issue of crucial importance to many industries, particularly those engaged in renewable power generation, automotive, transportation and emergency power back-up.

Nanotecture specialises in the development and production of nanoporous materials and the development of highly efficient electrical storage devices based on those materials. The company's proprietary material production process enables the precise engineering of nano-scale architectures within materials. These nanoporous materials are characterised by very high surface areas, typically hundreds of times the area of the equivalent non-porous materials. Electrodes and electrical storage devices constructed of nanoporous material respond at high speed and deliver very high power density.

Depositing materials on the template produces pores of diameter ~3nm with a wall thickness of ~5nm. This structure can increase ionic mobility such as Lithium ion in Li-ion batteries. Controlling the pore diameter and wall thickness, through changing the liquid crystal surfactant, can optimise energy density. A 1.5V micro battery 0.3mm thick has already been developed and the technology has been shown to enable new, high power applications such as camera flashes on mobile phones.

Using its expertise in electrochemistry, Nanotecture has developed a novel asymmetric cell architecture based on one nanoporous battery and one capacitor electrode. This unique, patented supercapacitor design provides the dual advantage of higher power density and higher energy density, compared to conventional designs.

The presentation delivered by the company's CEOs looked at the organisation's core nanoporous technology and its application and performance within supercapacitors, as well as business development considerations and key market opportunities.

For more information about Nanotecture Ltd, please visit

Professor Bob Slade, Professor of Inorganic and Materials Chemicals Energy, Materials and Nanochemistry, University of Surrey
Nanostructured Materials for Supercapacitors: Exploiting Pseudocapcitance to Increase both Energy Density & Power Density

Supercapacitors offer energy storage at high power and when used as part of a hybrid device, offer smaller batteries with extended lifetimes. They are simple, electrochemical devices based on two electrodes with a porous separator and an electrolyte solution.

When using supercapacitors, energy can be stored in two ways: electrochemical double layer capacitance (dominant for high surface area carbons as electrodes) and faradaic pseudocapacitance (in which ions enter the surface of the electrode, this being present in most metal oxide electrodes). For an oxide system the specific capacitance (goxide -1) of a device can be similar to that for an exclusively carbon-electrodes-based system but the true density of the particles is much higher than that of carbon, which results in a much higher volumetric capacitance.

Nanostructuring has two principal effects: (1) the specific surface area of the electrode film increases (greater double layer capacitance) and (2) the diffusion length for intercalated ions shortens, leading to a higher charge/discharge rate (higher power). As pseudocapacitance is associated with volumes near particle surfaces, nanostructuring can also lead to greater volumetric energy storage (higher capacitance). For oxide electrodes, most work to date has concerned aqueous electrolytes and consequently a charged voltage < 1.4 V.

Metal oxides under investigation have included MnO2, nickel oxides, cobalt oxides, molybdenum oxides and vanadium oxides; Of the most promising is MnO2 (low cost, high abundance, low toxicity), with in-device capacitances over 450 F g-1.

At the University of Surrey, Birnessite MnO2 nanotubes have been made and cast into self - supporting electrode films. Supercapacitor cells were assembled in hybrid arrangement with birnessite cathodes and carbon composite film anodes, with a glass fibre separator. Galvanostatic cycling at various discharge current
densities, 0 and 1.4 V, showed the classical "sawtooth" profile with excellent cycleability specific capacitance up to 350 F g-1 (with (NH4)2SO4 (aq. 2 mol dm-3) electrolyte; energy density < 100 W h and power density < 77,000 W h kg-1).

For more information about the University of Surrey, please visit

Graeme Purdy, Chief Executive Officer, Ilika
Rapid Development of Breakthrough Energy Storage Materials

Ilika is an advanced materials company which accelerates the discovery of new and patentable materials, using its unique high throughput technologies (HTT) process for identified end uses in the energy, electronics and biomedical sectors. This process enables hundreds of scalable materials to be made in a single, automated operation and subsequently tested for key properties.

Traditionally, materials development has been a slow and demanding task, with manual, sequential methods used to make samples of material that are then tested for suitability. On average, it takes between 7 and 10 years to move from an initial discovery through to the first commercial prototype. However, experiments carried out by Ilika have shown the processes can be executed 10 to 100 times faster.

Purdy's presentation focused on the projects Ilika is undertaking to develop new materials for the storage of energy, with particular regard to hydrogen storage and high energy density lithium-ion batteries.

The main techno-economic barrier to the use of hydrogen as a fuel is its safe and effective storage. Most of the prototype vehicles designed to use hydrogen store the gas in its compressed form at pressures up to 700 bar. This is not only inefficient but it also poses safety hazards through the supply chain. As part of a TSB supported project, Ilika is working with the University of Oxford, the Rutherford
Appleton Laboratory (RAL) and Johnson Matthey plc to develop new materials such as solid metal hydrides to store hydrogen at lower pressures. The presentation covered some of the techniques used in this project and the desired outcomes.

The increased demand for hybrid and electric vehicles has created the need for batteries with an improved power and energy density. In the next few years, this need is widely expected to be met through lithium-ion batteries. As a rapidly developing technology, there is a broad spectrum of lithium-ion cell chemistries which are being assessed in order to yield the desired improved battery performance. The presentation looked at the high throughput techniques Ilika is using in order to rapidly assess the performance of these different chemistries.

For further information about Ilika, please visit

Peter Ball, Strategic Research Director, BRE
Can the Construction Sector Create Market Pull for the Nanotechnology Industry?

Buildings are responsible for nearly 50 per cent of today's CO2 emissions and yet despite new construction and refurbishment of millions of external facades, roofed areas and high rise buildings every year, very few opportunities have been made to use these constructions as a source of energy generation and storage.

Property owners are now being incentivised or targeted to produce their own energy, through instruments like the feed-in tariffs to help reach government targets for reduced CO2 emissions and reduced energy usage (the Carbon Reduction Commitment and energy targets).

Peter Ball's presentation looked at some of the potential new products and ideas being delivered by nanotechnology, such as, turning large areas into energy generators and examining the challenges faced by getting the scientists talking sensibly to the builders.

Construction is a naturally creative sector but the definition of innovation in construction is different to other sectors with regard to R&D and new product development. Most sectors measure R&D in terms of months and years whereas the construction industry thinks in terms of days and months. Yet the construction sector is worth nearly 10% of the UK's GDP so it is crucial that we explore ways and means of making mid- to long-term R&D attractive to construction sector. BRE believe it is vital that we develop an iterative R&D strategy which allows the energy savings and generating technologies to be incorporated into a building earlier and as part of the building design.

For more information about BRE, visit

Nigel Pickett, Founder & Chief Technology Officer, Nanoco Technologies Ltd
Quantum Dots and Solar Cells

Nanoco Technologies assist major R&D and blue-chip industrial organisations in the development of applications incorporating semiconductor nanoparticles, known as quantum dots. The bulk manufacture of quantum dots provides partners with the platform to develop a wide variety of next-generation products, particularly in the fields of electroluminescent displays, LED lighting and solar cells.

Quantum dots, as with other photovoltaic technology, offer potential for low cost solar panels. Nanoco Technologies Ltd, a spin-out from the University of Manchester, has developed a method for the volume manufacturing of quantum dots. These 4-5 nm nanoparticles of Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide (CIGS), and Copper Indium Diselenide (CIS), absorb light up to 800nm in wavelength and are soluble across a range of solvents. These features provide the possibility for application by printing using inkjet or roll-to-roll techniques. After an annealing treatment, the layer can be converted into crystalline thin films suitable for solar cells. Research on quantum dots has indicated that an efficiency of 19% is possible.
As the demand for cleaner energy increases, it is imperative that new forms of low cost solar energy are found. To meet that demand and to address the high energy and high cost of vapour deposition, which is currently used in the production of solar cells, Nanoco has utilized its expertise in the synthesis of nanocrystals or quantum dots to develop a range of novel copper, indium, gallium and selenium (CIS, CGS and CIGS) containing quantum dots of varying composition that can be used to manufacture low cost solar cells with good efficiencies.

The presentation addressed Nanoco's advanced quantum dots capable of forming printable inks in a variety of solvents, paving the way for low cost, roll to roll production of new solar cell technologies.

For more information about Nanoco Technologies Ltd, please visit

The Nano4Energy event covered a huge variety of different areas and enabled many industry professionals and academic institutions to network, creating links in the supply chain and generating new discussions surrounding nanotechnology for greener energy.

By bringing together people at events like these, the NanoKTN aims to find solutions to issues faced by the market, in order to forge a competitive industry in the UK. By uniting those who work within this developing industry, the NanoKTN wants to develop programmes to advance R&D and identify gaps in the UK supply chain.

The Nano4Energy focus group covers four areas: Built Environment; Mobile Power; Supply Chain; and Communication. These working groups will define activities to be addressed in these areas, in order to facilitate technology transfer and supply chain development.

This article gives only a snapshot of the developments in nanotechnology for energy and only a summary of the issues discussed at Nano4Energy 2010. To stay up-to-date with group developments and events in this area and to read presentations in full, please visit or email enquiries to

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