UK government on environmentally-beneficial nanotechnologies

The British government’s Department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) has published a report focusing on nanotechnologies that may prove to be environmentally beneficial.

In the Defra study, five nanotechnology applications are looked at in detail. It is claimed that in these particular areas, the use of nanotechnology could contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the UK of up to 2% in the near term, and 20% by 2050.

“The purpose of the study is to identify and examine nanotechnology applications which could contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,” says Defra spokesman Steve Morgan. “Our consultants were tasked to consider both the feasibility of these applications, and any obstacles which might impede or prevent their adoption.”

Fuel additives: Nanoparticle additives could increase the efficiency of diesel engines by around 5%, which would result in a maximum saving of 2–3 megatonnes per year of atmospheric carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).

Solar cells: High prices are inhibiting widespread adoption, but nanotechnology may lead to cost savings. If solar generation were to meet 1% of the UK’s electricity demand, around 1.5 MT CO2e per year could be saved.

Hydrogen economy: Using current methods of hydrogen generation, 79 MT per year in CO2e could be saved. Nanotechnology could improve the efficiency of hydrogen fuel cells, but widespread adoption is estimated to be decades away.

Electricity storage: Despite recent advances, there remain major issues surrounding battery charging times. The use of nanotechnology may improve the situation, and, with the current energy mix, maximum savings of 42 MT per year of CO2e could be realised.

Insulation: Cavity and loft insulation is cheap and effective, but solid-walled buildings make up approximately one third of the UK’s housing stock. Nanotechnology may provide a solution that results in a maximum saving of 3 MT per year of CO2e.

Some of the findings and recommendations of the Defra study echo those of last year’s Stern Report, but the more optimistic figures rely on predictions of technological breakthroughs that may or may not occur.

Further reading:

Environmentally Beneficial Nanotechnologies: Barriers and Opportunities, Defra, May 2007.

Environmentally Beneficial Nanotechnologies: Appendices, Defra, May 2007.

Article first published in Nanomaterials News.