UCD nanotech lab to target €113-billion energy-tech market

14 Oct 2009

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One of the world’s leading scientific figures in the search for ways to harness the sun’s energy, Nobel-prize winner Walter Kohn, has opened a new science lab to support the R&D of new energy technologies at UCD.

Using the facilities, scientists and industry will work together to develop nanotechnologies and products targeted at the global renewable energy market, worth an estimated €113 billion by 2015.

What is nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology involves the study and use of materials on an unimaginably small scale. Nano refers to a nanometre (nm). One nanometre is a millionth of a millimetre or about one eighty thousandth the width of a human hair.

“At this scale, materials can behave very differently from when they are in larger form. Nanomaterials can be stronger or lighter, or conduct heat or electricity in a different way,” explained Prof Nick Quirke, head of the UCD College of Engineering, Mathematical, and Physical Sciences.

By finding out more about the nanoscale world, scientists aim to use nanotechnologies to create new devices that are faster, lighter, stronger or more efficient."

Nobel Prize winner

Kohn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1998 for his seminal work on the electronic structure of materials. According to him, solar energy is a major part of the solution to the provision of future energy needs. He believes it offers an economically realistic, clean and safe energy source to help replace diminishing fossil fuels.

“Solar energy is quite realistically estimated, in two or three decades, to contribute perhaps something in the vicinity of 25pc of total electricity consumption,” he said.

“The development of new solar energy devices for electricity and for production of green fuels, such as hydrogen, is one of the major aims of the new laboratories,” Quirke added.

“Multinational companies, SMEs and start-ups, who want to develop and test new energy technologies, can come to UCD and work with our scientists in the UCD Nanovation Laboratories. The unique combination of imaging, experiment, and theory, offered by the new laboratories, also supports potential advances in medicine and medical technology.”

Nanotechnologies are seen as having major potential in areas like energy storage, healthcare and IT. Across the world, governments and businesses have begun to heavily invest in the development of nanotechnologies.

Science Foundation Ireland and the Higher Education Authority funded the UCD Nanovation Laboratories to the tune of €3.4 million. More than 30 scientists and 120 PhDs and post-docs conduct research in the laboratories, which measure more than 630 sq metres.

The official opening event was part of Innovation Dublin 2009 – a week-long festival of events that showcased, highlighted, promoted and encouraged innovation and creativity in Dublin, which ran 14-20 October.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com