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Big nano solutions
Article Type: Editorial From: Sensor Review, Volume 30, Issue 4
Our theme for this issue is nanotechnology and smart materials, and developments in these areas can provide us with a very different way of looking at many of the very big problems that we are currently facing.
As I write BP is still working desperately to control and hopefully close the oil leak following the explosion on the Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which led to its sinking on 22 April 2010 in 1,500 m water in the Gulf of Mexico. In total, 11 people died in the explosion and subsequent fires.
The only reason that BP (and many other oil companies) look for oil in such deep waters is because easier and cheaper alternatives are becoming ever scarcer. In the space of less than 200 years, we will have drained our planet of oil reserves that have taken many millions of years to accumulate.
Despite its international importance, we are not addicted to oil. We do, however, appear to be addicted to energy, and at the moment oil is by far the biggest source of energy. Sooner or later, we are going to run out of oil and so we need to come up with alternatives.
We can either assume that our needs for more and more energy will continue to rise and invest in nuclear, solar, wind and tidal energy sources; or we can challenge the basic premise and find ways to dramatically reduce our energy requirements.
This is where nanotechnology and smart materials come in. My first mobile phone was about the size of a small briefcase and it was made heavy by the large batteries that it needed to power it for just a few hours of use. These days mobile phones are much smaller in size and they can run for days off diminutive batteries. The advance of technology has decreased our energy needs by reducing the size of the products we use.
A car weighs about 1,500 kg and is used to transport, let us say two people at 85 kg each and a bit of shopping or about 200 kg. The car weighs as much as it does because of a chain of knock-on effects. The engine is heavy and so the suspension and chassis need to be engineered accordingly. Since other cars are heavy, we need to make our car very sturdy so that it can withstand impacts with other vehicles. If we can manage to reduce weight at every opportunity, then we will soon benefit from a win-win situation. The reduction in weight would mean we need a smaller engine, which would use less petroleum so it would need a smaller tank, which would reduce the weight which would mean we could […] and so on.
With a very few exceptions, we do not want the products we use to be big and we certainly do not want them to use more power. If we can think “outside the box” and find ways of making things smaller, then we will save on raw materials and energy requirements.