Nobel Prize-winning chemist Richard Smalley has called upon the nanotechnology research community to focus on ways to make renewable energy cheap and ubiquitous.
Scientists would need to use nanotechnology to create home storage systems for hydrogen as well as a new material to replace copper wiring and allow electricity to be sent great distances. Smalley and his fellow researchers at Rice are working on a new carbon "spinning" process that would create a polymer material that will be one-sixth the weight of copper with the same conductivity and have the same strength as steel. [...] Smalley described how nanotechnology can also be used to create "super batteries" for storing hydrogen at homes or businesses to avoid using the electricity grid at peak times of demand. [...] Smalley believes that finding a replacement for fossil fuels is essential to solving the world's top 10 problems, which he said include poverty, hunger, water, the environment and terrorism.
Smalley's call for action took many nanotech enthusiasts by surprise, not because they don't think that this is an important issue -- they do -- but because Smalley is well-known as a skeptic about nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology may not deliver on all of its promise, but advances are happening fast. It's one of the reasons I'm ultimately an optimist about our ability to build a sustainable world. Getting to a bright green future will take revolutionary innovation -- and nanotechnology looks like a good candidate for just that revolution.