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Nanotechnology is already being used within numerous applications in the renewable energy sector to help to both improve on current methods of energy production, and to create no ways to harness energy.
What are Nanoparticles?
Nanoparticles are smaller than bulk material but larger than atoms. They are of particular interest to scientists, especially in the fields of biomedicine, optical, electronics and energy because of the special properties they have which differ from the properties they have as a bulk material. Below, the various applications of nanoparticles are discussed, and their impact on renewable energy is evaluated.
Solar is one section of the renewable energy sector that is particularly benefitting from the development of nanoparticle technology. Gold nanoparticles are being used to improve solar energy storage. Gold nanoparticles in the form of tiny stars are coated with a semiconductor to give them the capacity to generate hydrogen from water in a way that is 4 times more efficient than alternative methods. This innovation has not only improved on the way solar energy is stored, but it has paved the way for further innovations in harnessing solar power more efficiently.
The method works through a process called photocatalysis, where sunlight is harnessed to catalyze faster reactions, that ultimately create a cheaper to run process. The current method relies on illuminating titanium dioxide with ultraviolet (UV) light as a catalyst, however using UV light is not efficient.
Applications of Gold Nanoparticles
Scientists have been able to use gold nanoparticles to improve the efficiency of this technique. The updated process uses visible and infrared light as a source to excite the electrons in the gold nanoparticles. This catalyzes the reaction as it facilitates the efficient transference of excited electrons in the metal into the semiconductor. The result of amending the method in this way was that the excited electrons in the gold nanoparticles were able to convert hydrogen from water with almost 4 times more efficiency.
This process allows for unused solar energy to be stored as hydrogen, meaning that the resource is not wasted, and the intermittent nature of solar energy is overcome by creating a secure store of power for when energy supplements are needed. The impact of this is transforming the renewable energy sector into one that is sustainable and ready to scale-up.
Other kinds of renewable energy other than solar are also being transformed through the use of nanoparticles. Geothermal, for example, has begun to utilize nanofluids to enhance the heat-retaining properties of geothermal extraction fluids. One method of extracting geothermal heat involves injecting fluid into rocks, which is heated from under the surface and exits the rock as a warm fluid. Scientists have discovered that the addition of nanoparticles to the fluid increases its capacity to retain heat, boosting the method’s efficiency and profitability in a similar way that it does with solar power.
Wind power is also seeing benefits through the use of nanoparticles. Again, in a similar way to how they help solar and geothermal become more efficient and profitable, nanoparticles are increasing the amount of energy generated from each windmill. Nanotubes are being added to the epoxy used to construct windmill blades, resulting in an increase in the amount of energy generated through increasing the length of the blades, as well as making them stronger and lighter.
Nanoparticles will continue to make a significant impact on the renewable technology sector as innovations continue to be made in different segments. There is much yet to study in terms of understanding the potential that nanoparticle intervention can have on the sector. But the first developments have demonstrated the huge benefits to overall energy production and profitability that are possible with nanoparticles.
Sources and Further Reading