1.5.1 Energy: Executive Summary
The energy market encompasses a vast range of economic activity, from the extraction of fossil fuels, generation of energy - by burning coal to generate electricity, for example; distribution, and consumption.
Nanotechnology has the potential for significant impact at all stages of the energy value chain. A number of oil companies are investigating ways in which nanotechnology can improve the effectiveness of oil drilling. One of the main applications for nanotechnology in energy generation is solar photovoltaics, with thin film solar technologies, using CIGS and CdTe, and dye-sensitized solar cells. Energy storage is also affected by nanotechnology. Novel electrode materials are already commercially available and are increasing the power density and stability of batteries.
The primary driver - and it is of immense importance - is the increasing awareness of the threat of climate change, and a policy climate which reflects that. Companies which are developing energy technologies that do not produce significant quantities of CO2; generating energy from the sun, the wind, water and vegetable matter; know that they will have access to a supportive policy environment and an investor community which is very focused on developing these technologies.
Currently two applications of nanotechnology for energy are considered; solar photovoltaics, and batteries.
Solar photovoltaic (PV) cells convert sunlight to electricity. As an indication of the market potential, some projections call for 12% of Europe's electricity needs to be satisfied by solar generation by 2020, a total of 420 terawatt hours (TWh). Solar PV applications can be divided into grid-connected, off-grid systems, and portable applications. A number of companies have commercial products and development activities focused on nanotechnology-based solar technologies.
The battery market is expected to grow substantially in the coming years. This is partially driven by growth in existing battery applications - particularly laptops, ‘netbooks' and mobile devices. However, the primary driver will be new applications, particularly in the automotive industry. Nanotechnology for batteries is a very active field of research and development. Nanotechnology can provide an improved solution to important functional requirements such as power density, charge/discharge efficiency, and self discharge rate, as well as making the batteries themselves less volatile.
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