Will Nanotechnology Provide Us Black Houses That Generate and Store Electricity?

Mass-produced nanotechnology-enhanced products hold great promise in the pursuit of sustainability.  Nanotechnology is unfamiliar territory – such a (relatively) new area of science that it appears we’re still learning what we don’t know.  How, for instance, can you assemble something that is orders of magnitude smaller than any available tools?  We have not yet developed nanobots or nano-scale machines capable of manipulating materials effectively in any quantity.  Moving particles around with electric or magnetic charges, for example, is not an easy thing to do, nor does it lend itself to mass production.  It appears we won’t be able to produce nanomaterials in useful volumes for some time to come if we have to wait for nano-scale tools to be developed.  Mass production is needed both to supply the needed quantities and to lower the cost so the technology is affordable.  So where might this take us?

Self-assembly works, and is making the transition from the lab to the factory floor.  Fortunately, molecules naturally attach together by attractive forces without external aid, and bond together like the parts in a jigsaw puzzle (link).  Molecular chemists can design molecules that latch onto each other in specific ways and align themselves by surface tension-like forces.  This idea of self-assembly, in which putting the appropriate molecules in close proximity to each other and in a medium in which natural attraction can pull them together in a desired way, is available now, and has great potential for production of the mass quantities of nano-materials that are needed.  In fact, IBM started using self-assembly concepts in the production of computer chips in 2007 (link) (link), and a company called Nanotec now sells water and dirt-repellent coatings that self-assemble (link).  A lithium ion battery is under development that uses self-assembling electrodes to achieve smaller size than its predecessors (link) (link).  Could batteries be shipped in paint cans and “painted on” in self-assembling layers?

Self-assembling materials may soon make the transition out of the factory.  While self-assembly is being implemented in factory conditions now, in the future it may be able to be implemented outside of controlled environments.  This suggests that materials can be packaged in quantity, shipped to their point of application or use, and then either mixed or placed in conditions in which they will assemble themselves and acquire their desired capabilities.  With self-assembling materials, the volumes of nano-substances we need can feasibly be produced, shipped, and applied where needed.

Self-assembling solar cell paints with built-in battery storage may be possible.  IBM’s self-assembling nano-wiring combined with Nanotech-USA’s self-assembling coatings, the inkjet-printable solar cells (link) of Konaka Technologies (link), and MIT’s lithium ion nano-batteries makes me think of a solar cell paint with integrated battery storage.  I am looking forward to having my house painted with photovoltaic paint – a paint that will self-assemble during the drying process into a light-catching photovoltaic coating that lasts a long time, has superior weather resistance and sealing characteristics, and has built in battery storage for excess energy.   External electrodes would be attached before or after the paint is dry, and wiring would convey the electricity produced by the paint into the house where it can be used.  The batteries would allow power to be drawn around the clock, and by the time the batteries have worn out, it will be time to repaint anyway.  Of course, lithium being the toxic material it is, I hope that less toxic battery materials would be developed soon that would also self-assemble.  Barring that, though, I could also live with recyclable batteries in the basement.

When my house is absorbing most or all available light, won’t it look black?  Of course, when most of the incident light is trapped and turned into electricity by the black carbon nanotubes used, there won’t be much light to perceive as color, and I expect the solar cell paint will be black.  Will we all someday be living in houses that appear black?  I believe I could live with that – my house in the universally neat and formal, and in this case oh-so functional, “little black dress”, especially if it keeps my energy bills down.  I just would hope I could get my wife to accept it.

As always, I welcome your comments.


6 responses to “Will Nanotechnology Provide Us Black Houses That Generate and Store Electricity?

  1. A more efficient and cost effective renewable energy system is needed.
    A more efficient and cost effective renewable energy system is needed.
    To accelerate the implementation of renewable electric generation with added incentives and a FASTER PAYBACK – ROI. (A method of storing energy, would accelerate the use of renewable energy) A greater tax credit, accelerated depreciation, funding scientific research and pay as you save utility billing. (Reduce and or eliminates the tax on implementing energy efficiency, eliminate increase in Real estate Taxes for energy efficiency improvement).
    In California, you also have the impediment, that when there are an interruption of power supply by the Utility you the consumer cannot use your renewable energy system to provide power.
    In today’s technology there is automatic switching equipment that would disconnect the consumer from the grid, which would permit renewable generation for the consumer even during power interruption. Energy storage technology must advance substantially. “Energy conservation through energy storage”.
    New competition for the world’s limited oil and natural gas supplies is increasing global demand like never before. Reserves are dwindling. These and other factors are forcing energy prices to skyrocket here at home. It’s affecting not just the fuel for our cars and homes, but it’s driving up electricity costs, too. A new world is emerging. The energy decisions our nation makes today will have huge implications into the next century.
    A synchronous system with batteries allows the blending of a PV with grid power, but also offers the advantage of “islanding” in case of a power failure. A synchronous system automatically disconnects the utility power from the house and operates like an off-grid home during power failures. This system, however, is more costly and loses some of the efficiency advantages of a battery-less system.
    We’re surrounded by energy — sun, wind, water. The problem is harnessing it in an economical way.
    Jay Draiman, Northridge, CA
    June 19, 2008

    Jay Draiman Energy Development Specialist provides expertise in all sectors of the energy and utility industry.
    Over 20 years experience. Specializing in: Energy Audit, Telecom audit, Utility bills audit and review for refunds or better rates, Demand Management, Energy Efficiency review and implementation, Renewable Energy, Lighting Retrofit, Solar Energy, Wind Energy, Fuel-Cell, Thermal imaging, Rainwater harvesting, Energy conservation, Ice Storage, Water conservation methods, Energy and telecom audit and procurement
    Much is at stake when policy makers, regulators, and corporate executives face the challenges of evolving energy markets and efficiency.


  2. Thanks for your comment, Jay. While it is a bit of a commercial I will allow it.
    You raise some interesting policy considerations that government could use to encourage alternative energy system implementation on a distributed, home-system level. Unfortunately, I fear that the big energy utilities resist the proliferation of home energy systems, possibly seeing them as a threat to their control and their profits. I was told by some people who installed a 12 kW home solar electric system that the local utility put many barriers in their way, making it very difficult to sell power back into the grid and thereby creating an impractically long payback period for their solar energy investment. I am continuing to write to my state legislators and the governor suggesting that the public service commission needs to push for a fair system that will not discourage home energy generation in this way, and encourage everyone to do this.

    Thanks again for your comment. – Tim

  3. Renewable Energy Manufactures/suppliers should use their own product to manufacture.

    The manufacturers’ of Solar Panels and other forms of renewable energy with related support products manufactures/suppliers – should have at least the decency to practice what they preach what they market to the public.
    That would be the best marketing approach I can think off.
    If they believe in the product they manufacture/sell, they should utilize it to its fullest potential.
    It will give the manufacturer the actual experience of utilizing the product on a daily basis, view and experience any shortcoming or improvements that are needed, implement the improvements and capitalize on that revision to improve the product and its performance.
    This will instill confidence in the public to purchase the product.

    Jay Draiman, Energy Analyst

    As with any new technology, PV will become more efficient, cheaper and cleaner to produce. In order for this to happen we (Governments / NGOs / Individuals) need to invest more time and money into making PV viable, e.g. through increased incentives, regulations, technical standards, R&D, manufacturing processes and generating consumer demand.
    Just like the automobile industry, the manufacture used its own product.
    Over the years the automobile industry and technology has evolved from the early 1900 to what it is today the year 2008.
    I predict that in 10 years the automobile we know today will change drastically for the better, with new fuel technology and other modification that will improve its scales of economy and features.

  4. Neat writing / I will visit again=D

  5. To Jay Draiman,

    Your ridiculous spewing of lies and incorrectness is why people have taken so long to adopt green in the first place. You say and I quote New competition for the world’s limited oil and natural gas supplies is increasing global demand like never before. Reserves are dwindling. These and other factors are forcing energy prices to skyrocket here at home. It’s affecting not just the fuel for our cars and homes, but it’s driving up electricity costs, too. A new world is emerging. Not true at all, the worlds oil is not dwindling, there is more oil to be had than any point in our history. Guys like you and Al Gore is the single reason power has been forced up in the first place. Stay in California where you belong. I do believe in what you say that something should be done to limit the release of hydrocarbons, but the rest of the world should also should be involved( ie India, Brazil, and China).

  6. Jeez, Mike. I don’t know who you are listening to. I would think the amount of oil and fossil fuels in the world is pretty fixed. We might discover more, and more ways to extract it, but sooner or later it will become more scarce, and usage is going up, probably even faster than the global human population. You have considerable emotion in your comment, but I can’t figure out where it’s coming from, or why you blame Al Gore for anything. That just makes you sound like a talk radio nut case.
    Personally, I am more concerned about energy corporations who aren’t preparing for changes in sea level, national economies preparing for climate change of any kind, and national governments and media who never mention the population explosion, let alone show any evidence of long range planning or consideration for what to do about these problems. Thanks for your comment, anyway, and please broaden your information sources. There are lots of profit-motivated organizations and individuals out there who will misrepresent facts and stir up emotions to try to keep their profits coming. I urge you to think more critically and question your sources – follow the money, my mom always said, if you want to know what’s really going on. Best of luck to you (and to us all). — Tim

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