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Nanotechnology

I have seen the future, and it is right around the nano-corner.

BY WILLIAM JANHONEN, LEED-AP, NAHB-CGP

 

Reprinted from Green Living AZ magazine: Technology section

On July 20, 1969, President Kennedy’s forecast of men walking on the moon and safely returning to Earth came to pass. On that day in July, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., set foot on the moon, becoming instant poster boys for the advancement of American technology. That decade of invention introduced us to new wonders such as the audio cassette, halogen lamps, Astroturf, a handheld calculator, the very first artificial heart, the first video game, and ATMs. Yet if you told a person in 1969 that one day wireless communication would make it possible for every person in the world to communicate seamlessly, they would have laughed at you. I had the pleasure of speaking to one of the most fascinating men I have ever met–Justin Hall-Tipping is the CEO of Nanoholdings, a commercialization network of leading university scientists working in the fledgling field of nanotechnology. We met at his headquarters in Rowayton, CT, and sat in a conference room with a white board. Within the first ten minutes of sitting down together, we had filled the board with ideas and explanations about technology and future possibilities. When asked about the term “commercialization,” Justin commented, “Technology is a wonderful thing, but creating a breakthrough has to be tempered by being able to use that technology to help people, and that is derived by commercialization of the process.” And helping people is one of the main tenets of Nanoholdings, especially in the area of energy technologies. According to nanoholdings.com,

“The real potential of nanotechnologies is in the field of energy and our goal is to find ways to re-engineer at the nano-scale. We will be able to create energy technologies that are far cleaner, more efficient and therefore cheaper, than any of the fossil fuels or alternative energy technologies around today.”

Imagine being able to use any surface to absorb sunlight and convert the energy collected into electrons at the nanoscale. Your entire house, not just the windows, could become its own solar collector. Then, take the generated electrons and send them to a storage unit about the size of a refrigerator. For example, the average home is 2200 square feet and uses approximately 18-21Kwh per day. This storage device could hold weeks of energy at one time and distribute it back to your appliances and lighting as needed. And if you are storing excess energy and your neighbor is deficient in stored energy, you could transmit electrons wirelessly through a glyph or small patch on your window to your neighbor and receive energy. You could also sell excess power back to the grid or local provider. The power company’s infrastructure would become less relevant, and every home would become a stand-alone energy plant–no more power outages and no more fossil fuels. This process would revolutionize the generation, transmission, storage and conservation of energy as we know it. The amazing part is that most of what I have just described is already here and working in laboratories around the world through Nanoholdings… and energy is just the beginning.

Nanoholdings is using nanotechnology to take regular sand and create “supersand” by coating each granule with carbon to create a filtration medium that will remove not only bacterial contaminants, but also certain heavy metals like mercury from water. This advancement could mean an enormous step forward in preventing millions of deaths around the world that occur because of contaminated water. The practical solutions don’t stop there.

Let’s look at night-vision and the potential of decreasing the need for street lights which drain our energy resources and add CO2 to the environment. According to nanoholdings.com, “Nanoholdings is working on creating a medium using nanotechnology to develop flexible, thin films to replace existing night-vision technology. The films use several nanobased components to convert infrared light into visible light that we can see and understand. The first is a photo-detector film that converts invisible infrared light into electrons. These electrons then stimulate an optical film, like a thin flexible display, to create a visible image. The overall technology will be less than 1/2000th of a millimeter in thickness, more sensitive than conventional night-vision technologies, and will use just 1/40th of the energy.

 

“The films will be very flexible and lightweight and can be incorporated into standard glasses or even vehicle windscreens to create night-vision head-up displays. They will also cost a fraction of what it costs to produce conventional night-vision technology. The technology has exciting potential in all security applications. NIRVision technology should be ready for field testing by 2012.”

 

Justin went one step further, adding, “The visible spectrum we see is a small portion of the total light spectrum. From ultraviolet to infrared, our vision only sees a minute portion, but what if we could convert UV and infrared into visible light in a living setting? We could eliminate our normal methods of lighting by harvesting the “invisible” portions of the light spectrum at night and light our homes by converting the electrons into visible lighting. I would love to create a scenario in those countries where the basics of food, water and energy are far below the average and create a system of eBox energy conversion and storage providing low-cost heat and refrigeration along with a water filtration system to provide potable water while allowing healthier living.” Existing technologies, like carbon nano-tubes which are 1000 times more conductive than copper and harder than steel, supply some of the answers.

When you consider the challenges we face as the world population expands by an additional two billon people over the next 30 years, the answers may lie in developing these new technologies…in looking at life at the nano level. The advancements already made seem like answers looking for questions since so much can be accomplished. Is nanotechnology the next silicon chip? We can only hope that humanitarians like Justin Hall-Tipping and Nanoholdings with their team of scientists continue to think out of the box and create solutions before we run out of time.

Go to: http://www. ted.com/talks/browse  to view Mr. Justin Hall-Tipping’s lecture describing nanotechnology at the TED conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, held July 2011.

Comment on this article at greenlivingaz.com

William Janhonen teaches green building at several colleges and universities in the Northeast.

 

 

 

 

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