Green Technology & Alternative Energy Information Center
Solar Energy/Photovoltaics · Fuel Cells · Hydrogen Storage · Battery Technology · Wind Energy
Geothermal Energy · Nuclear Power Nanomaterials · Thin Film · Solid State Lighting · Metallic Foams
The term "Green Technology" ("greentech") identifies a group of industries and industrial applications which utilize technologies that benefit the environment, particularly as it impacts the human condition. Also known as environmental technology ("envirotech") or clean technology ("cleantech"), green technology encompasses an increasingly diverse range of industries that includes energy, agriculture, manufacturing, and more. Unlike the technological waves in recent decades, green technology is almost entirely materials science based. An excellent discussion of the nexus between materials science and green technology can be seen on the PBS NOVA video entitled "Making Stuff: Cleaner".Advances in materials science are critical to the development of products such as solar energy panels and emission-free recyclable vehicles that are both commercially viable and cost-effective.
Much of the coming green revolution also relies on the availability of "Alternative Energy" sources to both eliminate the emission of green house gases that cause global warming and to make the limited resources we have on the planet perpetually sustainable. Alternative Energy is defined as both energy sources other than mined hydrocarbons (e.g. solar energy in replacement of oil and natural gas) as well as alternative methods to process mined hydrocarbons that are more efficient than current means (e.g. use of fuel cells in replacement of combustion engines).
What are the raw materials of Green Technology?
As stated, nearly all Green Technologies rely on the use of new advanced materials. Below is a detailed discussion of many of the new technologies relying on nanomaterials. These new materials vary from metals commonly used today in many ways. First, elements on the periodic table such as copper, tin, iron and carbon are stepping aside in favor of less common metals, such as zirconium, yttrium, tellurium and the 14 elements that make of the group of metals known as the "rare earths". For example, batteries that were once made of lead are now made of lithium.Silicon Nanoparticles have been shown to dramatically expand the storage capacity of lithium ion batteries without degrading the silicon during the expansion/contraction cycle that occurs as power is charged and discharged. Silicon has long been known to have an excellent affinity for storage of positively charged lithium cations making them ideal candidates for next generation lithium ion batteries. However, the quick degradation of silicon storage units has made them commercially unfeasible for most applications. Silicon Nanowires however, cycle without significant degradation and present the potential for use in batteries with greatly expanded storage times.
Second, the purity of advanced materials can often be measured in atoms with ultra high purities up to 99.9999%.
Next, the scale and size of the raw chemical and metallic powders may be as small as the nanoscale. "Nano" equals a billionth and therefore a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. To appreciate the size, a human red blood cell is over 2,000 nanometers long, virtually outside the nanoscale range. For a given amount of material, as particle size decreases, surface area increases. Since the surface of any material tends to be where it reacts with other materials, the more surface area, the greater effect using less material. It is not uncommon for one gram of a nanoscale material to have the surface area of a 60' x 30' floor!
In addition to the use of new metallic elements is the use of these less common metals with common metals to form new super alloys with unique properties, such as scandium-aluminum alloy which can combine lightness, extreme strength and high temperature and corrosion tolerance in a single material. Another example would be newly developed carbides of various metals to create super hard and corrosive resistant materials with interesting properties. Similarly, the use of glass and ceramics in functional components of electronics and energy efficient systems is giving way to the use of crystal structures, semiconductors and super conducting materials.
The vast number of "Green Technologies" fall into one of two broad categories. These are:
- those intended to deal with global warming by either reducing greenhouse gas emissions or in the alternative its potential harmful effects on the planet, and
- those technologies associated with establishing economic "sustainable growth" which includes recycling, resource reduction and many aspects of the biosciences.
Each of these two categories has several major associated industries addressing some aspect of achieving their goals. And of course many of the important industrial and technological revolutions taking place today touch on both. For example, fuel cells both decrease the green house gases that cause global warming by potentially eliminating air pollution from automobiles and they also make our energy sources more "sustainable" by reducing the amount of hydrocarbon-based fuel needed to generate the same amount of energy as compared to current combustion engines, i.e. far greater miles per gallon.
There seems to be little debate that human activity has increased the level of air pollution and CO2 in the earth's atmosphere and that this will increase global temperatures. The ultimate effect to humanity of this rise in the planet's temperature is a matter of great debate but the fact that this will result in significant changes to how we live and work is not. Today there are essentially two approaches to global warming. The first is best known from the work of former Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Al Gore as presented in his film "An Inconvenient Truth" holds that global warming should be addressed at its root cause by all of humanity working in consort through technological/industrial innovation and international governmental policy to reduce the quantity of air pollution and CO2 emissions being generated. The second approach is best expressed in the work of the environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg as presented in his writings and books, such as "Cool It" which holds that a "rational as opposed to fashionable" approach to global warming is to recognize that the least expensive method of dealing with its effects is to treat them as they occur sometimes at the very local level. This is based on the premise that when the actual effects are examined in a sober and scientific way, policymakers will discover addressing them piecemeal is significantly less costly in capital than the effort that would be necessary to reduce green house gas emissions to a point where the Earth's temperature actually began to fall again.
Those technologies that are intended to deal with the root causes of global warming as proposed by Al Gore and the larger environmental movement work by reducing the emission of the green house gases that are changing the earth's atmospheric temperature. Green house gases are either of the type we commonly think of as "Air Pollution", such NOX (Nitrous Oxide) and SOX (sulfur dioxide) and the non-pollutant CO2 (carbon dioxide) which we exhale.
Alternative Energy Sources. As described above with respect to global warming, even if all material resources on the planet were used in a fully recyclable manner, alternative sources of energy are also necessary since those currently powering civilization are being exhausted. Thus, the most pressing concern of the green revolution is establishing a global energy infrastructure to replace hydrocarbon fuels before the best of those sources are exhausted. Note the less valuable sources such as coal may be plentiful but in their case the challenge is the development of advanced technologies to address elimination or sequestration of the massive volume of CO2 coal generates in its production and use.
Fuel Cells. An example of materials science playing a part in eliminating production of green house gas causing air pollutants is in the use of solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs). SOFCs are electrochemical power plants that some believe will power automobiles in the future because they produce no air pollutants in the process. However, because they still rely on hydrocarbons as their energy source, they do not eliminate generation of CO2 emissions. This would require the creation of a hydrogen infrastructure which is often discussed but is not being seriously proposed at this time due to both safety concerns and the cost to produce, store and transfer hydrogen.
Technologically, SOFCs are all materials science. There are no moving parts in the conversion of hydrogen to electricity. They are comprised of three layers. An electrically conductive cathode made of one of several perofskite materials such as Lanthanum Strontium Manganite (LSM), Lanthanum Strontium Ferrite (LSF), Lanthanum Strontium Cobaltite Ferrite (LSCF), Lanthanum Strontium Chromite (LSC), and Lanthanum Strontium Gallate Magnesite (LSGM), an ionically conductive electrolyte, such as Yttria Stabilized Zirconia or YSZ (Zirconium Oxide stabilized with Yttrium Oxide), Gadolinia doped Ceria or GDC (Cerium Oxide stabilized with Gadolinium Oxide, Yttria doped Ceria or YDC (Cerium Oxide stabilized with Yttrium Oxide), and Scandia Stabilized Zirconia or SCZ (Scandium Oxide stabilized with Zirconium Oxide and an electrically conductive anode which usually is Nickel Cermet compositions of nickel oxide and yttria stabilized zirconia. As hydrogen is pumped under pressure through the electrically conductive anode layer and oxygen is made available through the electrically conductive cathode layer, a circuit is completed through the ionically conductive electrolyte completing the circuit. As long as hydrogen is pumped into the system, electricity will be generated.
Solar Energy. Another example of a technology intended to reduce both air pollution and CO2 emissions is the use of photovoltaic cells to generate electricity (actually electrons) from photons emitted by the sun. Given the enormous amount of capital today being invested in solar energy technologies globally from Silicon Valley to the Nation of Singapore, solar energy will unquestionably play a major role in reducing green house gas emissions by supplanting hydrocarbons such as oil, coal and gas as our energy source for many applications. From its start solar energy has been essentially a field of materials science. In the 1970s the first silicon-based photovoltaic (PV) cells were produced. These basic cells were created by doping silicon to form two oppositely charged layers.
All silicon-based photovoltaic solar energy collectors however suffer due to their ability to absorb energy only from a relatively narrow range of the sun's light wave emission. More recently advanced materials have been developed that can either expand this band gap or create multiple band gaps in order to absorb a greater portion of the solar energy spectrum. This has lead to the development of PV cells based on Copper Indium Selenide (CuInSe2) or "CIS" Absorption Layers which can capture energy from portions of the light's spectrum not collected by silicon-based PV cells. Doping CIS with Gallium increases the band gap even further and as such most PV cells are now based on Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CuInGaSe2) and are referred to as "CIGS".
Other promising designs include cells based on III-IV Nitride materials and research on Zinc Manganese Telluride, Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) and Gallium Selenide P-Type layers. The band gap for III-IV Nitride materials, such as Gallium Indium Nitride, covers nearly the entire energy spectrum of the sun because of multiple band gaps in the semiconductor materials. Similarly, Zinc Manganese Telluride crystals have three band gaps which can absorb greater than 50% of the solar energy spectrum. Further important research involves nanotechnology approaches using nanoparticles of the above materials.
Hydrogen Storage. Hydrogen can easily be generated from renewable energy sources making it a primary focus in the area of alternative energy research. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and is produced from various sources such as fossil fuels, water and renewables.
Hydrogen storage is nonpolluting and forms water as a harmless byproduct during use. The challenges associated with the use of hydrogen as a formof energy include developing safe, compact, reliable, and cost-effective hydrogen storage and delivery technologies. Currently, hydrogen can be stored in these three forms: Compressed Hydrogen, Liquid Hydrogen and Chemical Storage.
Battery Technology. Battery technology has grown rapidly due to the wide-spread use of rechargeable solid-state batteries in computers, vehicular applications and portable electronics. Batteries contain a number of voltaic cells; each voltaic cell consists of two half cells connected in series by a conductive electrolyte containing anions and cations. The type of chemical reaction that can be used in an electrochemical cell is known as an reduction-oxidation reaction which means, a reaction in which one chemical species gives electrons to another. Anions, which are negatively charged ions, oxidize at the anode in the reduction-oxidation reaction while cations which are positively charged ions, are reduced at the cathode. By controlling the flow of ions between the two species through separation, battery engineers make devices in which virtually all of these electrons can be made to flow through an external circuit, thereby converting most of the chemical energy to electrical energy during the discharge of the cell.
Wind Energy. Converting wind energy into electricity using various blade and turbine systems has been utilized since the mid-1970s when tax incentives were written in many states to encourage public utilities to purchase the power generated. Many of these earlier systems failed to deliver efficient energy and were only financially viable as tax shelters. More recently advanced materials particularly advanced ceramic, such as yttria stabilized zirconia (YSZ) and composites, have played a part in the development of light, less costly and more efficient wind turbines. Additionally, the decades of experience with wind as an energy source has allowed for the design of better overall wind generator "farms" placed in strategically determined locations, such as the 4,000 megawatt farm proposed by T. Boone Pickens in Texas.
The Nuclear Power Dilemma. One source of energy that is entirely free of green house gas emissions and that could be used widely today is nuclear fission of enriched radioactive isotopic materials to produce electricity. Nuclear generators are the single greatest source of energy that in no way impacts global warming. They fully achieve the goal of environmentalists as a massive source of energy capable of sustaining our present standard of living and reducing planetary temperatures. However, the second goal of the Green Revolution is sustainable growth (discussed below) which requires that human activity not produce waste products that cannot be perpetually reused or recycled to something useful. All nuclear fission systems generate some form of radioactive waste which must be disposed of. Given the lengthy half life of the waste materials, "disposal" actually means perpetual storage. However, public policy may come to view storage of nuclear waste a better alternative than allowing for the continual rise in global temperatures.
Geothermal. Another possible solution to the problem of global warming is geothermal energy, that is power extracted from heat stored in the Earth. It originates in the formation of the planet, radioactive decay of minerals, and from solar energy absorbed at the surface. Geothermal energy has been used for bathing since Paleolithic times, in the form of hot springs and other natural formations, and for living space heating since ancient Roman times. The earliest industrial exploitation of geothermal energy began in 1827 with the use of geyser steam to extract boric acid from volcanic mud in Larderello, Italy. Lord Kelvin invented the heat pump in 1852, and Heinrich Zoelly had patented the idea of using it to draw heat from the ground in 1912. But it was not until the late 1940s that the geothermal heat pump was successfully implemented. The 1979 development of polybutylene pipe greatly augmented the heat pump’s economic viability.
Today geothermal energy is now better known for generating electricity. Worldwide, geothermal plants have the capacity to generate about 10 gigawatts of electricity as of 2007, and in practice supply 0.3% of global electricity demand. An additional 28 gigawatts of direct geothermal heating capacity is installed for district heating, space heating, spas, industrial processes, desalination and agricultural applications. The Earth's internal heat naturally flows to the surface by conduction at a rate of 44.2 terawatts, (TW,) and is replenished by radioactive decay of minerals at a rate of 30 TW. These power rates are more than double humanity’s current energy consumption from all primary sources, but most of it is not recoverable. In addition to heat emanating from deep within the Earth, the top ten metres of the ground accumulates solar energy (warms up) during the summer, and releases that energy (cools down) during the winter.
Geothermal power is cost effective, reliable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly, but has historically been limited to areas near tectonic plate boundaries. Recent technological advances have dramatically expanded the range and size of viable resources, especially for applications such as home heating, opening a potential for widespread exploitation. Geothermal wells release greenhouse gases trapped deep within the earth, but these emissions are much lower per energy unit than those of fossil fuels. As a result, geothermal power has the potential to help mitigate global warming if widely deployed in place of fossil fuels. Methods have been developed to remove silica from high-silica reservoirs. In some plants silica is being put to use making concrete, and hydrogen sulfide is converted to sulphur and sold. At power plants in the Imperial Valley of California, a facility is being constructed to extract zinc from the geothermal water for commercial sale.
Metallic Foams. Metallic foams are becoming increasingly important in the treatment of environmental pollutants. Metallic and ceramic foams are cellular structures consisting of a solid metal or ceramic material containing a large volume fraction of gas-filled pores. The pores can be sealed, closed-cell foam, or they can form an interconnected network, open-cell foam. The defining characteristic of these foams is a very high porosity, typically 75-95% of the volume consisting of void spaces. Metallic and Ceramic foam is often used in green technology applications because the high surface area facilitates the adsorption of environmental pollutants and other chemicals. It is also used for thermal and acoustic insulation, and as a substrate for other catalysts requiring large internal surface area.
SUSTAINABLE GROWTH. In the 1960s American's first became aware that their massive increase in consumption after World War II was causing an equally massive generation of waste products for which there was little technology or public policy to address. This spawned the original environmental movement with it's emphasize on reducing ground, air and water pollution. As policies and technologies were created to address pollution, it became clear that the real long term goal must be to ultimately establish a fully sustainable planet; one that could perpetually sustain itself in its present form through better management of its resources. This would require efforts on several technological fronts. First, products needed to be designed and built with an eye towards (1) eliminating wasteful materials use and (2) the reuse and recycling of the materials that are used once the product has exhausted its useful life. Second, reliance on difficult to replenish resources from timber to oil needed to be drastically reduced through the development of new recyclable advanced materials.
Thin Film, Nanomaterials and Organo-Metallics. When Thomas Edison first did his experiments with electricity and the electronic equipment it could power, he wasn't concerned with how much copper was required to carry a circuit or the amount of power being used. As electronics became smaller and more complicated the company he built, General Electric, became very concerned with reducing the scale and volume of metals. Thinner conductive and semi-conductive layers and wires were necessary. Until the 1970s this was accomplished using electroplating of metallic solutions, such as metal chlorides combined with etching technologies.
But the movement towards "Smaller, Cheaper and Faster" products and equipment didn't end there. Advanced technology has introduced three new areas of materials science that will have a major impact on the further reduction of resources necessary to maintain our standard of living. These are nanomaterials, organo-metallics and the application of thinfilm coatings in replacement of electroplating using sputtering targets and high purity foils.
Thin Film. The fabrication of functional layers of materials at the naoscale can now be accomplished by converting the material into a plasma-like chemical vapor which deposits the material on a substrate. Modern hand-held electronics rely on thin film deposition to achieve their small size.Nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is playing an increasing role in solving the world energy crisis. Platinum nanoparticles are ideal candidates as a novel technology for low platinum automotive catalysts and for single-nano
|Nanoscale gas path and electronically conductive bridging structures made from American Elements’ advanced ceramic materials.|
Organo-Metallics. A third technological area of materials science that will advance the goals of smaller equipment and reduced reliance on resources is the development of functionalized metallic particles and nanoparticles to introduce the capabilities of a metal to a polymer or bioscience application. Organo-metallics are metal compounds with an organic anion or ligand that allows the metal to dissolve in organic environments such as polymers or attach themselves to living systems such as cellular structures. This makes them also valuable in new medical treatments and water treatment applications.
Solid State Lighting. By narrowly controlling the particles distribution (PSD) of quantum dot nanocrystals to within 10 nanometers, discreet colors with long term photostability can be emitted with wave lengths representing the entire visible spectra. Prior to quantum dots, light emitting semiconductors, such as light emitting diodes (LED), could not emit white light and therefore could not light a room.
With the development of quantum dots with particle size distributions less than 500 nanometers (nm), LED emissions in the blue range have been achieved and many commercial uses of solid state semiconductors have been developed. These devices have already emerged in the next generation of DVD players, such as Blue-ray Disc and HD-DVD, and have generated considerable interest in applications such as projection displays, high-resolution printing, and optical sensing. This ability has also found application in fluorescent biomarkers and dyes for live cell imaging and antibody conjugates.
Currently, lighting consumes 22% of all electricity produced in USA. Lighting is the single biggest user of electricity - incandescent light bulbs are only 1-4% efficient. Fluorescent lighting is significantly more efficient at 15-25%, however solid state LED lighting can more than double that at 20-52% efficient, and LEDs are thought to have the potential for 60-80% efficiency. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates over $98 billion in energy savings could be realized by 2020 if solid state lighting can achieve an efficiency target of 200 lumens/Watt (60%), alleviate the need for up to 133 new power stations*, eliminate about 258 million metric tons of carbon*, and save around 273 TWh/year in energy**
* "The Promise of Solid State Lighting" OIDA Report , 2001
**A. D. Little, "Energy Savings Potential of SSL" Report for Dept. of Energy
Government policymakers have begun to take several initiatives towards advancing the goals of the green revolution. As to Global Warming, the Kyoto Protocol first made a significant effort to establish a global framework for reducing green house emissions. As to a sustainable planet, most nations now have established reuse and recycle programs. Europe is in the process of possibly the most far reaching effort to manage the materials that go into our daily lives through the REACH program of chemical registration. Once enacted, REACH will allow government to better track whether products are being manufactured from materials that can be recycled or reused. As Green Technology becomes increasingly integral to the economy, American Elements contributes throughout to our customers' efforts providing research support, toll production of new materials with predetermined specifications to allow for optimization studies as well as of course timely and certified bulk volume deliveries globally of advanced materials in support of these programs.
Recent Research & Development for Green Technology
- J. Trinkunaite-Felsen, Z. Stankeviciute, J.C. Yang, Thomas C.K. Yang, A. Beganskiene, A. Kareiva, Calcium hydroxyapatite/whitlockite obtained from dairy products: Simple, environmentally benign and green preparation technology, Ceramics International, Volume 40, Issue 8, Part B, September 2014
- M.M.R. de Melo, A.J.D. Silvestre, C.M. Silva, Supercritical fluid extraction of vegetable matrices: Applications, trends and future perspectives of a convincing green technology, The Journal of Supercritical Fluids, Volume 92, August 2014
- Zhimin Qiang, Chin-Pao Huang, Jiuhui Qu, Huijuan Liu, Green technologies for the purification/renovation of impaired water, Separation and Purification Technology, Volume 117, 30 September 2013
- Yousef S.H. Najjar, Hydrogen safety: The road toward green technology, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, Volume 38, Issue 25, 21 August 2013
- Magda Sibley, Martin Sibley, Hybrid Green Technologies for Retrofitting Heritage Buildings in North African Medinas: Combining Vernacular and High-tech Solutions for an Innovative Solar Powered Lighting System for Hammam Buildings, Energy Procedia, Volume 42, 2013
- Wilko Rohlfs, Reinhard Madlener, Investment Decisions Under Uncertainty: CCS Competing with Green Energy Technologies, Energy Procedia, Volume 37, 2013
- Mª Teresa Fernández-Ponce, Lourdes Casas, Casimiro Mantell, Miguel Rodríguez, Enrique Martínez de la Ossa, Extraction of antioxidant compounds from different varieties of Mangifera indica leaves using green technologies, The Journal of Supercritical Fluids, Volume 72, December 2012
- , Amine-functional dimer technology for new green chemistry and sustainable epoxy coatings, Focus on Powder Coatings, Volume 2012, Issue 3, March 2012
- Yijun Huang, Gengxin Yang, The Applied Research of Green Production Technologies Based on the Production in Plastic Molding Factories, Energy Procedia, Volume 14, 2012
- Jesse Emspak, Big ships go green with retro technology, New Scientist, Volume 212, Issue 2843, 17 December 2011