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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > NanotechnologyKTN > Nano4Energy 2011: Nano-enabled Clean Energy

Fiona Brewer

On 28th June 2011, the Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network (NanoKTN) hosted its third Nano4Energy conference, this year sponsored by Nanofactory. This unique event brought together developers of the latest clean energy solutions with academia, end-users, investors and the energy industry supply chain. The event focused on ways in which nanotechnology is enabling the development of innovative and improved clean energy solutions and raised awareness of the advances in nanotechnology which are opening new opportunities in clean energy generation, conversion, conservation and storage.

September 8th, 2011

Nano4Energy 2011: Nano-enabled Clean Energy

The ‘green energy' revolution is gathering pace for producing energy from renewable and low carbon footprint resources. In many of the future clean energy scenarios, nanotechnologies are starting to deliver the critical solutions to technical challenges and on-going research in this area promises further developments and significant commercial rewards. Inward investment into clean energy now exceeds US$150billion. 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.

Nano4Energy 2011, held in the Clothworkers Hall at Leeds University, was attended by 80 delegates who were presented with a wide range of nano-enabled clean energy technologies from leaders in the field.

Professor Richard Williams, Pro VC of International Partnerships at Leeds University opened the day by setting the scene and introducing the activities underway at Leeds. Dr Nigel Pickett, CTO of Nanoco Technologies followed with an overview of the uses of heavy-metal-free quantum dots in low energy displays, lighting and more efficient photovoltaic. Nigel announced the recent breakthrough at their scale-up facility in Manchester in producing the world's first kilogramme of cadmium-free fluorescent quantum dots. This world first is highly significant for a family of nanomaterials which have widespread application.

Dr Di Wei, Senior Researcher at the Nokia Research Centre in Cambridge, described the innovative research underway to develop technologies for the Nokia ‘Morph' - a flexible mobile phone concept which changes from a wrist band to flat device. Dr Wei described research into enabling technologies that could make this concept realisable by 2020, which included flexible energy harvesting (ambient solar) and storage (stretchable batteries and supercapacitors). Energy harvesting and storage were seen as key to future devices since increased functionality would mean higher power requirement. Nanoscale carbon materials are being examined for electrodes, and these will require flexibility - a property not generally found in battery materials. Another challenge is to achieve reproducible properties in nanomaterials when quantities are scaled up for large scale production. Dr Wei also presented research on the idea of combined flexible capacitor plus battery system. A transparent supercapacitor based on an ionic liquid has been developed with a specific capacity of 18 Farad/g. Work was underway on graphene batteries comprising lithium foil with inkjet printed graphene based electrodes and liquid electrolyte. Dr Wei concluded that inkjet printable batteries were of great interest. Harvesting ambient light is a possible way forward using flexible dye-sensitised solar cells (DSSC) based on ZnO nanoparticles or nanorods in contact with black dye in an ionic liquid gel electrolyte.

Prof Richard Jones at Sheffield University put forward the case for polymeric solar cells for low cost, large area solar energy harvesting. Compared to expensive batch processing of silicon PVs, polymer systems could be manufactured by a continuous method, but it is key to understand the relationship between processing, morphology and performance.

Prof Bob Slade at Surrey University discussed developments in supercapacitors based on nanoparticulate Manganese and Vanadium oxides. Supercapacitors can be used to buffer the charge and recharge of batteries resulting in smaller batteries with longer lifetimes, as the damaging use cycles are overcome. The use of nanomaterials exploits the high surface area to volume ratio meaning less material and lighter weight.

Dr Allan Paterson of Axeon Technologies gave an authoritative overview of lithium ion batteries and Dr Karl Coleman of Durham Graphene Science outlined the exciting possible applications of graphene. Graphene is a sheet of carbon atoms much like an unrolled carbon nanotube. The material has received considerable attention since Prof Andre Geim at Manchester University was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010. The DGS manufacturing process promises scale-up and large scale manufacture.

Hydrogen powered fuel cells for powering applications ranging from portable electronics to automotives have been a topical subject for many years in the UK. The major challenge has been sourcing and storage of hydrogen, a topic addressed by Dr Simon Bourne of ITM Power, who have commercialised a photolysis unit which uses solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Also on the topic of hydrogen, but more specifically hydrogen storage, Stephen Voller outlined the innovative hydrogen storage technology developed by Cella Energy in which hydrogen is stored within a polymer for release on demand.

The meeting concluded with a panel discussion on financing of clean energy technologies, facilitated by Mark Fahy, Head of UK Small & Mid-Cap Companies - Equity Primary Markets at the London Stock Exchange. The panel comprised Nigel Pickett of Nanoco (listed on AIM), Graham Howes of BP Ventures and Dr Martin Kemp of the NanoKTN. Fundraising routes such as venture capital and flotation were considered and prompted a lively debate. Observations included the need for a focussed, concise and realistic business plan in order to engage the interest of VCs who are bombarded with proposals, often for unrealistically small amounts of money.

A series of technology pitches also updated delegates on recent breakthroughs from Cella Energy, Durham Graphene Science, Intrinsiq Materials, Leeds Lithium Power, Mantis Deposition, Plasma Quest, Promethean Particles and QinetiQ.
Emerging clean energy technologies represent significant potential for nanomaterials and nano-coatings in applications such as batteries, supercapacitors, fuel cells, hydrogen storage, thermoelectrics and photovoltaics. With increased pressures from Government targets and growing numbers of people looking to live an increasingly sustainable lifestyle, clean energy technology is becoming progressively more important. A significant proportion of clean energy solutions already involve nanotechnology and this is expected to grow in the future.

The UK boasts an impressive academic base in clean energy technologies, with university spin-out companies bringing many of these to commercialisation. A significant number of next-generation clean energy solutions already involve nanotechnology and on-going research in this area promises further developments and significant commercial rewards. In order to see real commercial success, the nanotechnology supply chain needs to be brought together to discuss and understand opportunities. Dr Martin Kemp, NanoKTN Theme Manager notes that; ‘Clean energy is a rapidly growing global market which draws upon enabling technologies being developed in the UK. It is important to the UK economy to develop a sustainable UK industry in this area, which requires scale-up and development of supply chains, both of which are key aims of the Nano4Energy focus group.

The Nano4Energy focus group was set up by the NanoKTN to look at developments in clean energy. Nano4Energy is an industry-driven network seeking to address key issues and to develop a sustainable UK energy industry. Cost reduction, supply and integration are the key drivers. The group embraces a range of clean energy production and storage technologies which can be impacted by nanotechnology.

This article gives only a snapshot of the developments in this area. Presentations can be found in full on the NanoKTN website and are available to members of the NanoKTN who have signed up to the Nano4Energy focus group. Membership to the NanoKTN and its focus groups is free at

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