Nanotechnology Introduction Series:
The Energy Sector

By: Dr Stanley Crawford (Ed.D)

Nanotechnology is the development and use of techniques to study physical phenomena and construct structures in the physical size range of 1-100 nanometers (nm), as well as the incorporation of these structures into applications [1].  It is a challenge to truly describe a nanometer.  However, it is important to get a perspective for what a nanometer is like. For example, a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick.  Nanotechnology impacts all areas of our lives.

nanotechnology-future-renewable-energy-wind-turbinesIn the energy sector, energy may be divided in various ways.  In this article, the energy sector and nanotechnology will be discussed in five parts:  1) energy sources, 2) energy change, 3) energy distribution, 4) energy storage, and 5) energy usage. Let us begins with energy sources, one energy source is wind energy.  Wind energy is considered a renewable source and does not produce atmospheric pollution.  Nanotechnology is being applied to the production of wind energy.  For example, nanocomposite coatings are being applied to turbine blades.  One such coating is called a carbon nanofiber.  This nanofiber was found to dampen the vibrations that occur in the use of wind turbines [2].  Vibrations reduce the life of the turbines and have a negative impact on the turbines efficiency; which in turn impact wind energy production, as well.

Another source of energy is the sun, solar; however, producing large quantities of solar energy for a reasonable cost has been an elusive goal.  Methods employed today are not very efficient in transforming the sun’s rays into energy.  Some researchers have been using nanotechnology in order to produce cheaper solar energy. Nanotechnology in this area seeks to improve the ability to capture more of the solar energy [3].

Next, we will consider energy change.  In this area thermoelectric devices based on nanotechnology are being developed.  Thermoelectric devices directly convert heat into electricity or electricity into heat.  Nanostructures used in thermoelectric devices will maintain good electrical conductivity and lower thermal conductivity.  For example, one such material is call bismuth telluride.  Thermoelectricity concepts can be applied to power suppliers, sensors, powering small electronic devise, and eliminating waste [4].

Thirdly, we will consider smart grids.  A smart grid is an electronic grid that makes use of digital devices to control and deliver electricity.  These digital devices would be constructed of nanomaterials.  Nanotechnology that is currently being researched is hoped to result in control devices and sensors that are able to deliver information about the status and condition of utilities ahead of developing problems [5].  This would allow engineers to schedule maintenance and appropriate times in order to reduce the negative impact of power outages at unplanned times.

Our fourth area is nanotechnology and energy storage.  Two areas of energy storage that have a significant impact on our lives are batteries and capacitors.  These are energy storage devices that are benefiting from nanotechnology research.  For instance, researchers have been improving on batteries ability to recharge through the use of nanotechnology.  Zhang, Yu, and Braun (2011) demonstrated a large battery charge rate with minimum capacity loss.  They were able to do this through the use of cathodes employing nanotechnology [6].  Supercapacitors are used for energy storage where batteries and regular capacitors have an unfavorable power-to-energy ratio.  For instance, in electric vehicles, cell phones, and personal entertainment instruments [7].

Finally, there is nanotechnology and energy usage.  An area to consider is thermal insulation.  Though not an energy source itself; it directly impacts the amount of energy used in a structure, for instance.  Research is being conducted on ways to improve the effectiveness of insulations through nanotechnology. For instance, in nano insulation material the pores in the insulation material are reduced to below 40 nanometers [8].


[1] R.N. Kostoff, R.G. Koytcheff, C.G.Y. Lau, Global nanotechnology research literature overview, Technological forecasting & Social Change, 2007, Volume 74, 1733-1747.

[2] F. Liang, J. Gou, J. Kapat, H. Gu, F. Song, Multifunctional nanocomposite coating for wind turbine blades, International Journal of Smart and Nano Materials, 2011, Volume 2, Number 3, 120-133.

[3] M. G. Deceglie, V. E. Ferry, A. P. Alivisatos, H. A. Atwater, Design of Nanostructured solar cells using coupled optical and electrical modeling, American Chemical Society Nano Letters, 2012, 12, 2894-2900.

[4] W. Soutter, Nanotechnology in thermoelectric devices, retrieved from, March 13, 2013.

[5] K. W. Davis, Nanotechnology set to revolutionize smart grid evolution, Intelligent Utility, Retrieved from, March 14, 2013.

[6] H.Zhang, X. Yu, P.V. Braun, Three-dimensional bicontinuous ultrafast-charge and –discharge bulk battery electrodes, Nature Nanotechnology, Volume 6, May 2011, 277-281.

[7] H.Pan, J. Li, Y.P. Feng, Carbon nanotubes for supercapacitor, Nano Review, January 2010, 654-668.

[8] B.P. Jelle, Traditional, state-of-the-art and future thermal building insulation materials and solutions – Properties, requirements and possibilities, Energy and Building, 2011, Volume 43, 2549-2563.




Category: Nanotechnology