Thursday, May 29, 2008

Is ecotech the new asbestos?

From Low-Tech Magazine:

What will remain of greentech, cleantech and ecotech if nanotechnology turns out to be harmful for humans and the environment?

It’s hard to keep track of the soon-to-be-implemented technological solutions that will solve our energy and environmental woes by means of nanotechnology – the science of manipulating individual atoms. Solar panels and batteries might be far from optimal solutions now, but nanomaterials will boost their efficiency and dramatically lower their costs. Transporting electricity from solar plants in deserts may not be possible yet, but nanotechnology will bring us cheap superconducting cables and efficient hydrogen storage. Unfortunately, more and more research indicates that nanomaterials might become a severe health problem and an environmental nightmare.


If one reads the news articles and press releases that promise a breathtaking advance in ecotech, one finds that all these claims rely on nanotechnoloy...

...All obstacles seem to disappear when 'nano-engineered titanate', 'buckyballs' and (especially) 'carbon nanotubes' are put to use.

This does not apply solely to:

  • batteries : "nanosafe's Li-ion cells using nano titanate structures instead of traditional graphite give the Lightning GT sports car an incredible 250-mile range, a full recharge time of only 10 minutes, and a life expectancy of 12 to 20 years" (another example here)
  • hydrogen : "nanoparticle coatings can boost the efficiency of electrolysis to 85 percent"
  • solar panels : "nanotechnology can improve the performance of solar panels with 60 percent" (another example here)

but to almost any green technology:

  • water desalination : "nanotube membranes could reduce the cost of desalination by 75 percent"
  • low-power computer chips : "the new approach can allow an eightfold increase in the number of transistors that can be squeezed onto a variety of programmable chips, while bringing savings in energy consumption"
  • energy efficiency : "nanotech heralds new era in heating, cooling and power generation"
  • ecopaint : "new pollution eating paint will clean the air"
  • self cleaning windows : "the product keeps windows clean from dirt and grime for up to two years - no harmful detergents needed"

A match made in heaven?

In fact, nanotech and ecotech have almost become synonyms. According to the British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), nanotechnology could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 20 percent by 2050, with similar reductions in air pollution. Treehugger, one of the most influential eco-magazines on the internet, dubbed the combination environment - nanotechnology a "match made in heaven"....MUCH MORE