This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

February 15, 2006

Nanotech Proposal Holds Promise for Clean Energy Technologies

President Bush's proposed budget for fiscal year 2007, released on February 6th, includes $1.2 billion for the multi-agency National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), which develops materials and technologies on the scale of a billionth of a meter (a nanometer). The NNI budget proposal includes $258 million for DOE, a 25 percent increase compared to this year's funding. Nanotechnology has wide applications in science and technology, and its potential for clean energy technology is already obvious in the development of solar cells and energy storage devices. See the NNI Web site and summary of the funding proposal (PDF 98 KB). Download Adobe Reader.

A number of research efforts have focused on nanotech for solar cells. Most recently, researchers at DOE's Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have employed nanoscale crystals of semiconductors to produce multiple electrons from a single photon. The achievement could boost the electrical output from solar cells. Meanwhile, researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia and at Pennsylvania State University have been using nanoscale tubes of carbon and titania to build solar cells out of relatively inexpensive materials such as conductive polymers and dyes. Chemists at Italy's University of Bologna, UCLA, and the California NanoSystems Institute have even created nanoscale molecular "motors" that run on solar energy. See the press releases from LANL, QUT, Penn State, and UCLA.

For energy storage, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is trying to boost the storage capacity of ultracapacitors using carbon nanotubes, while mPhase Technologies and Bell Labs have built a prototype battery that never loses charge when it sits unused. The battery separates the electrolyte from the reactive parts of the battery with a silicon-based nanoscale membrane. See MIT press release and the mPhase Web site.