Sarah: Eric Isaacs (Argonne National Laboratories, USA) got our brains ticking over at ICONN2008 with his presentation on the role of nanotechnology in energy creation. While we all know that solar energy is greatly underutilised, the problem is that currently its mode of collection is very inefficient – the best on record is 32% efficiency (at least 50% efficiency would be viable). In addition, solar energy is difficult to store. Using solar energy is therefore very expensive compared to more traditional sources of energy, such as petroleum. The Argonne National Laboratory is currently focussing on 3 main areas to improve the use of solar as an energy source:
1. photovoltaics (such as the use of nanobiohybrids for solar electric conversion);
2. solar fuel (exemplified by artificial photosynthesis);
3. solar thermal (by way of self-assembled nanoparticles).
Interestingly, Isaacs commented that unlike in the past, when companies like Bell Labs (where Isaacs was a past employee) were the primary drivers of socially-beneficial invention, these days the engine for fundamental innovation needs to come from a multi-tiered approach involving academia (ie government labs using tax-payers money), small business and medium-large scale industry. The challenge as I see it is to get all these groups aware of each other, and to work together to allow such collaborations to happen. Networking at conferences such as ICONN can only promote such opportunities. Entities such as Nanovic are also critical.
Originally published on Blog@NanoVic for Nanotechnology Victoria.