Nanomaterial inspired by nature paves way for greener energy

December 21, 2012
Nanomaterial inspired by nature paves way for greener energy

(—A new nanomaterial, which finds its inspiration in nature, will provide the potential for more efficient and greener vehicles, rechargeable batteries and solar cells.

Researchers at the University of Reading have patented a new method of making electrode coatings with a thousand-fold increase in surface area compared with a flat electrode. This larger surface means that conversion of fuel or sunlight into electricity can take place in a smaller, more compact cell, making the cells cheaper to produce. The chemical reaction to create the energy also takes place at room temperature allowing the cells to be fitted to cheap materials such as plastic for the first time.

Based on structures found in the natural world which occur within mitochondria and , nature's own "fuel cells" and "", the new nanostructure is formed of a network of tiny wires, millionths of a millimetre in size, and is created by growing the metal in a template made from a plant molecule. This creates a structure known as a "bicontinuous cubic phase".

Dr Adam Squires, of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Reading, said: "Making electrodes more efficient lies at the heart of making our energy production more sustainable. This novel electrode coating technique has applications for fuel cells¹ in the newest generation of hybrid cars, photovoltaic cells, or battery production for a wide range of green technologies."

The process works in water using a technique known as electrochemical deposition, similar to silver plating a coin, and can be applied to any conducting electrode, creating a low cost, mass manufacture component. The unique 3D enables much better conductivity and is the ideal shape for a high area electrode to create a more effective energy supply. Potentially, the technique could lead to with much greater capacity than traditional cells.

Dr Squires continued: "The method of production is chemically mild, environmentally friendly and crucially takes place at room temperature, which means that electrodes could be fitted to a range of other materials. It will allow, for example, photovoltaic cells to be located on a plastic base rather than the currently used metal or glass, which will make renewable energy technologies more flexible, lightweight and cost effective."

The findings are published in the journal Advanced Materials this week.

Explore further: Low temperature fuel cells: New clean, energy efficient technology to power cars and mobiles

Related Stories

A new way to build membranes for fuel cells

February 17, 2010

( -- A team of researchers at MIT and Pennsylvania State University has been developing a new method for producing novel kinds of membranes that could have improved properties for batteries, fuel cells and other ...

Fuel cells show potential

March 20, 2012

National Physical Laboratory scientists have developed an innovative fuel cell reference electrode that has been used to map changes in electrode potential inside a working polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell for ...

Plastic solar cells pave way for clean energy industry

September 20, 2012

(—A Flinders University researcher has been developing a cheaper and faster way of making large-scale plastic solar cells using a lamination technique, paving the way for a lucrative new clean energy industry.

Nano-engineering electrodes to give tiny generators a boost

September 21, 2012

Could our waste be part of the answer to humanity's energy problems? Some researchers think so, thanks to bacteria that chow down on everything from sewage to heavy metals and give off electricity as one of their own waste ...

Recommended for you

Touchless displays superseding touchscreens?

October 2, 2015

While touchscreens are practical, touchless displays would be even more so. That's because, despite touchscreens having enabled the smartphone's advance into our lives and being essential for us to be able to use cash dispensers ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.