Game changer

March 14, 2013


March 14, 2013


The UK's Green Construction Board recently announced only a "heroic effort" would allow the built environment sector to realise its carbon emission targets of 2050. Such a wan declaration heralds a downward spiral to carbon austerity if the UK's Carbon Budget is to be balanced. Policies are now required to support the development of a range of low-carbon and high-efficiency technologies within a pressing timescale.

Greater focus is required on what the OECD labels "Green Growth" policies, including developing innovative solutions to environmental challenges. One such enabler is nanoscale technology, where structuring very small-scale novel materials can provide technical solutions across a spectrum of carbon abatement measures from the CO2 sequestration and storage to energy efficiency. Nanotechnology is used in a range of sustainable energy applications such as energy harvesting and recycling, energy storage and improving energy generation.

One report by Lux Research calculated that if the US, Germany and Japan were to fully adopt six nanotechnologies (low-friction coatings in automotive engines, nanofibre air filters, nano-enabled insulation, lightweight nanocomposite automotive parts, thermochromic windows, and quantum dot light sources) then the energy saved would be enough to close down all the coal plants in the US. To put that in perspective, coal accounts for over 40% of US electricity generation.

Nanotechnology will also boost the future of solar energy by making it more viable. Currently, most commercial solar cells use silicon technology to build rigid panels of photovoltaic cells. Over time, nanoscale thin film architecture using plastic or polymer solar cell films printed with low-cost techniques will produce savings in assembly, manufacturing and transportation, facilitating the global distribution and uptake of solar cells.

Over 800 everyday nanoscale products are commercially available, yet nanotechnology remains an emerging industry. Numerous challenges persist and the significant potential anticipated from nanoscale research is unrealised. Achieving the full potential of nanotechnology innovation depends upon supporting ongoing research and bringing to market nanomaterials. Barriers to entry need lowering and routes to market clarified to transfer emerging nanotechnologies into commercial propositions.

The UK has taken a bold step to stimulate investment in nanotechnology by founding the Integrated Nano Science and Commodity Exchange (INSCX) in the City of London. INSCX aims to trade nanomaterials like any other standardised investment grade commodities such as minerals or agriculture, to encourage transparency in pricing. Moreover, the option to purchase or sell commodities in the future will provide a means by which nanomaterial producers can hedge against present investments. The use of a trading exchange also provides a market-driven approach to regulate nanotechnology which is facing an increasingly institutional approach to regulation within the European Union.

Developing nanotechnology is a green-growth solution hinting at the broader possibilities for a greener economy consistent with resilient ecosystems, thus reducing the need for carbon austerity measures.


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