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Nanotechnology: Small Materials Making a Big Impact

December 14, 2010 - 12:35pm


This past Thursday, Secretary Chu delivered remarks to the Nanotechnology Innovation Summit in National Harbor, Maryland on how breakthroughs in nanotechnology are poised to transform the energy landscape.

According to the National Nanotechnology Initiative, “Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. Encompassing nanoscale science, engineering, and technology, nanotechnology involves imaging, measuring, modeling, and manipulating matter at this length scale.”

Nanotechnology has already produced big breakthroughs in electronics and medicine, producing smaller, more powerful computers and improving cancer treatments and diagnostics. Secretary Chu believes that it can have a similar impact on the world of energy. During his remarks he highlighted several energy sectors that are already experiencing great advances due to nanotechnology.

Here’s a sampling of the technologies that could have an impact:


MIT researchers, conducting Department of Energy sponsored research, discovered a new nano-structured cathode material that is now playing a central role in of advanced batteries.

In fact, A123 Systems was founded specifically to commercialize this technology into advanced batteries that last longer, charge quicker and operate with less risk than traditional batteries. Today, the company’s batteries are used in everything from power tools, to hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and they continue to make great strides in advanced storage.


Supported by the Department of Energy, researchers at University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign have developed a micro-transfer printing process that creates flexible silicon solar cells. This breakthrough is significant because it takes naturally brittle silicon, which is an essential component of solar collectors, and makes it flexible and light-weight.

Water Purification

Currently 19% of all electricity used in U.S. goes towards water treatment and pumping. That’s a staggering statistic that NanOasis is looking to address with their innovative SuperFlux reverse osmosis membranes. By utilizing carbon nanotubes, the SuperFlux membrane is able to convert contaminated water into drinking water, utilizing 30-50% less power than traditional treatment methods at one-third the cost.

These are just a few examples of how nanotechnology can help find solutions to our energy challenges. As the technology shrinks, its applications will continue to expand and we’ll be here to bring them to you.