Smart Grid and Nanotechnologies: How can Nanotechnology Reduce CO2 emissions? A Solution For Clean and Sustainable Energy

Renewable Energy Pix

Environmental sustainability remains a big trend; topics such as climate change and global warming are generating a lot of discussion. Growing world energy demand from fossil fuels plays a key role in the upward trend in CO2 emissions and is the main source of human-induced climate changes. While energy systems around the world remain at vastly different stages of development, all countries share a common problem: they are far away from achieving sustainable energy systems. As levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases continue to rise in the atmosphere, with historical maximums reached lately, sustainability in energy generation and energy efficiency principles is becoming ever more important.


For the first time in recorded history, more people worldwide are living in urban areas than in rural. The urbanization trend picked up pace in the 20th century and has accelerated since. Urbanization manifests itself in two ways: expansion of existing cities and creation of new ones.1 Cities are already the source of close to 80% of global CO2 (carbon-dioxide) emissions and will account for an ever-higher percentage in the coming years.

Too much CO2 in the atmosphere has been linked to climate change. If humanity continued with the same solutions that have been used to address urban development needs in the past, the resulting urban ecological footprint will not be sustainable: we would need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles by the 2030s. The challenge is to meet the demands of urbanization in an economically viable, socially inclusive, and environmentally sustainable fashion.1,2

According to a World Energy Council study,3 global demand for primary energy is expected to increase by between 27% and 61% by 2050. Climate change is expected to lead to changes in a range of climatic variables, most notably temperature levels. Since electricity demand is closely influenced by temperature, there is likely to be an impact on power demand patterns. The magnitude of the potential impact of future climate changes on electricity demand will depend on patterns in the power use, as well as long-term socio-economic trends.

The latest assessment by Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in September 2013, concluded that climate change remains one of the greatest challenges facing society. Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, human-influenced, and many unprecedented changes have been observed throughout the climate system since 1950. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.4

Consumption patterns, together with aging and urbanization in some countries seem to have bigger implications for health and the reduction of carbon emissions than the total number of people in the world.5 As developing and newly industrialized countries improve their standards of living, their use of air conditioning and other weather-dependent consumption will likely increase their sensitivity to climate change.6 On the other hand, reducing consumption and achieving more sustainable lifestyles in rich countries will likely represent the most effective way to reduce carbon emissions.

Nanotech World stock-photo-background-concept-wordcloud-illustration-of-nanotechnology-glowing-light-76352191

How can nanotechnology reduce CO2 emission?

“The Grid” and Improving Efficiencies

Nanotechnology is a platform whereby matter is manipulated at the atomic level. There are various ways that nanotechnology can be applied along the Smart Grid to help reduce CO2 emissions.

The major impact of nanotechnology on the energy sector is likely to improve the efficiency of current technologies to minimize use of fossil fuels. Any effort to reduce emissions in vehicles by reducing their weight and, in turn, decreasing fuel consumption can have an immediate and significant global impact.

It is estimated that a 10% reduction in weight of the vehicle corresponds to a 10% reduction in fuel consumption, leading to a proportionate fall in emissions. In recognition of the above, there is growing interest worldwide in exploring means of achieving weight reduction in automobiles through use of novel materials. For example, use of lighter, stronger, and stiffer nano-composite materials is considered to have the potential to significantly reduce vehicle weight.9,49

Nanotechnology is applied in aircraft coatings, which protect the materials from the special conditions of the environment where they are used (instead of the conventional bulk metals such as steel). Since the amount of CO2 emitted by an aircraft engine is directly related to the amount of fuel burned, CO2 can be reduced by making the airplane lighter.

Nanocoatings are one of the options for aerospace developers, but also for automotive, defense, marine, and plastics industries.49 Lufthansa Cargo uses the most advanced technologies and innovative processes including efficient jet engines, nanotechnology in aircraft coatings, new composites or regular jet engine cleaning – and of course monitoring overall aircraft weight. It is often a matter of only a few grams. However, given 15,000 to 16,000 flights a year and an average flight time of about 6 hours, the cumulative effect of a number of grams can quickly add up to tons. The removal of a 350 gram phone handset resulted in jet fuel savings of 3.5 tons in a year.50

Nanotechnology is already applied to improve fuel efficiency by incorporation of nanocatalysts. Enercat, a third generation nanocatalyst developed by Energenics, uses the oxygen storing cerium oxide nanoparticles to promote complete fuel combustion, which helps in reducing fuel consumption. Recently, the company has demonstrated fuel savings of 8%–10% on a mixed fleet of diesel vehicles in Italy.51

Reducing friction and improving wear resistance in engine and drive train components is of vital importance in the automotive sector. Based on the estimates made by a Swedish company Applied Nano Surfaces, reducing friction can lower the fuel consumption by about 2% and result in cutting down CO2 emissions by 500 million tons per year from trucks and other heavy vehicles in Sweden alone.9 Thanks to nanomaterials like silica, many tires will in the future be capable of attaining the best rating, the green category A. Cars equipped with category A tires consume approximately 7.5% less fuel than those with tires of the minimum standard (category G).52

Residential and commercial buildings contribute to 11% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Space heating and cooling of residential buildings account for 40% of the total residential energy use. Nanostructured materials, such as aerogels, have the potential to greatly reduce heat transfer through building elements and assist in reducing heating loads placed on air-conditioning/heating systems. Aerogel is a nanoporous super-insulating material with extremely low density; silica aerogel is the lightest solid material known with excellent thermal insulating properties, high temperature stability, very low dielectric constant and high surface area.51

Nanotechnology is positioned to create significant change across several domains, especially in energy where it may bring large and possibly sudden performance gains to renewable sources and Smart Grids. Nanotech enhancements may also increase battery power by orders of magnitude, allowing intermittent sources such as solar and wind to provide a larger share of overall electricity supply without sacrificing stability. Nanotech sensors will also enable Smart Grids and foster more flexible and decentralized electricity management.53

Nanotechnology may accelerate the technology behind renewables in various ways:

  • experts are discovering means to apply nanotechnology to photovoltaics, which would produce solar panels with double or triple the output by 2020;
  • wind turbines stand to be improved from high-performance nano-materials like graphene, a nano-engineered one-atom thick layer of mineral graphite that is 100 times stronger than steel. Nanotechnology will enable light and stiff wind blades that spin at lower wind speeds than regular blades;
  • nanotechnology could play a major role in the next generation of batteries. For example, coating the surface of an electrode with nanoparticles increases the surface area, thereby allowing more current to flow between the electrode and the chemicals inside the battery. Such techniques could increase the efficiency of electric and hybrid vehicles by significantly reducing the weight of the batteries. Moreover, superior batteries would complement renewables by storing energy economically, thus offsetting the whole issue of intermittent generation.

In a somewhat more distant future, we may see electricity systems apply nanotechnology in transmission lines. Research indicates that it is possible to develop electrical wires using carbon nanotubes that can carry higher loads and transmit without power losses even over hundreds of kilometers. The implications are significant, as it would increase the efficiency of generating power where the source is easiest to harness.53

Semiconductor devices, transistors, and sensors will benefit from nanotechnology especially in size and speed. Nanotech sensors could be used for the Smart Grid to detect issues ahead of time, ie, to measure degrading of underground cables or to bring down the price of chemical sensors already available for transformers. Nanotechnology will likely become indispensable for the Smart Grid to fully evolve in the near future.54

Energy efficiency is a way of managing and restraining the growth of energy consumption. It is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to combat climate change, improve the competitiveness of businesses, and reduce energy costs for consumers.7

More on Using Nanotechnology to Reduce Carbon-Based Emissions


Berkley Lab: A Better Way of Scrubbing CO2

Berkeley Lab Researchers Find Way to Improve the Cost-Effectiveness Through the Use of MOFs

A means by which the removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) from coal-fired power plants might one day be done far more efficiently and at far lower costs than today has been discovered by a team of researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). By appending a diamine molecule to the sponge-like solid materials known as metal-organic-frameworks (MOFs), the researchers were able to more than triple the CO2-scrubbing capacity of the MOFs, while significantly reducing parasitic energy.

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Nanotechnology material could help reduce CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants

1-KAUST Materials gilles-coinsliderUniversity of Adelaide researchers have  developed a new nanomaterial that could help reduce carbon dioxide emissions  from coal-fired power stations.

The new nanomaterial, described in the Journal of the  American Chemical Society (“Post-synthetic Structural Processing in a  Metal–Organic Framework Material as a Mechanism for Exceptional CO2/N2 Selectivity”), efficiently separates the  greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from nitrogen, the other significant component of  the waste gas released by coal-fired power stations. This would allow the carbon  dioxide to be separated before being stored, rather than released to the  atmosphere.
“A considerable amount of Australia‘s – and the world’s – carbon  dioxide emissions come from coal-fired power stations,” says Associate Professor  Christopher Sumby, project leader and ARC Future Fellow in the  University’s School of Chemistry and Physics.

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One Nano-Crystal – Many Facets – Reducing Fuel Toxins

cubic CeO2 nanoparticlesWhen it comes to reducing the toxins released by burning gasoline, coal, or other such fuels, the catalyst needs to be reliable. Yet, a promising catalyst, cerium dioxide (CeO2), seemed erratic. The catalyst’s three different surfaces behaved differently. For the first time, researchers got an atomically resolved view of the three structures, including the placement of previously difficult-to-visualize oxygen atoms. This information may provide insights into why the surfaces have distinct catalytic properties (“Probing the Surface Sites of CeO2 Nanocrystals with Well-Defined Surface Planes via Methanol Adsorption and Desorption”).

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This review demonstrates the potential for reduction of CO2 emissions that Smart Grids can potentially achieve. Power grid modernization is an evolution that will continue for years or decades, and providing a robust foundation for new applications and technologies is imperative.

The electric power industry is facing tremendous opportunities and becoming increasingly important in the emerging low-carbon economy. Governments are still dominant players in high-cost smart-grid investments. This suggests the need for a policy framework that attracts private capital investment, especially from renewable project developers, and communication and ICT companies.

The challenge we face is neither a technical nor policy one – it is political: the current pace of action is simply insufficient. The technologies to reduce emission levels to a level consistent with the 2°C target are available and we know which policies we can use to deploy them. However, the political will to do so remains weak. This lack of political will comes with a price: we will have to undertake steeper and more costly actions to potentially bridge the emissions gap by 2020.4 However, technical possibilities aside, the key to reducing emission levels will be the tough but unavoidable decision that reducing carbon pollution must be of the highest priority.

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