Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Nano Entrepreneur -- Part III

Nanotechnology and Green Energy

I have this feeling that the biggest obstacle to energy independence is apathy. Right now we have -- or could soon have -- the technology to power the world with wind, sun, water and geothermal applications. But we can't seem to push clean energy out of our labs and onto the landscape. Energy companies seem slow to create a new business model that'll generate profits as they transition from black to green. We should be clamoring for planet-friendly power. Writing congress. Carrying signs. Protesting the slow, sometimes indiscernible progress. Our survival rests in the balance -- and that's not an overly dramatic statement. We have big problems. Many of the solutions will come from the infinitesimal world of nanotechnology. And we're dependent on entrepreneurs to do what most of us can't -- they are by nature anything but apathetic.

Chances are they watched Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future -- particularly the scene in which he returns from his trip 30 years into the future, casually picks a banana peel out of the garbage and slips it into his Delorian's microbial fuel cell chamber, demonstrating that organic matter, such as that in agricultural and municipal waste, is a tremendously rich source of energy. In fact, as much as 80 percent of municipal waste is organic, and right now -- not 30 years ahead -- we can use microbial fuel cells to extract energy from biomass and produce electrical power. The problem is efficiency -- inefficient electron transfer yields low currents. However, by using semiconducting nanoparticles to amplify electron transfer, researchers can increase output significantly. Labs at the University of Michigan are creating a new generation of microbial fuel cells that integrate nanotechnology and optimized fuel-cell designs to increase power. Entrepreneurs are launching companies such as Trophos Energy on the bet that microbial fuel cell technology will be a hot item in the green revolution.

Applied Materials is another mover in the nano-energy field. They use a thin polymer film with nanoscale semiconductor materials and single-walled carbon nanotubes to produce a polymer solar cell that maximizes energy conversion. (It's worth noting that, although consumer demand for solar power has increased in the United States, it hasn't been significant enough for Applied Materials -- the world's biggest solar equipment manufacturer -- to build their cells in America. So, right now, according to The New York Times, "federal and state subsidies for installing solar systems are largely paying for the cost of importing solar panels made in China, by Chinese workers, using hi-tech manufacturing equipment invented in America.")

Nanosolar has been using a high-speed process to produce next-generation thin-film solar cells. The printing technique is two orders of magnitude more capital-efficient than a high-vacuum process. The new process works as well in production as it does in the lab.

The number of nano-energy startups and research programs grows and grows, but we have yet to see a significant dent in the carbon-energy dependence that hangs over us like a cloud. It's time for me to stop living as a partner with my apathy. And if I can kick apathy out of the house, so can you. Time to make some noise. Ask hard questions. Write our representatives in Washington. Carry signs. Raise a little consciousness. And give a special helping hand to those green-eyed entrepreneurs who have the know-how but lack support

The Nano Entrepreneur -- Part III

Nanotechnology and Green Energy

I have this feeling that the biggest obstacle to energy independence is apathy. Right now we have -- or could soon have -- the technology to power the world with wind, sun, water and geothermal applications. But we can't seem to push clean energy out of our labs and onto the landscape. Energy companies seem slow to create a new business model that'll generate profits as they transition from black to green. We should be clamoring for planet-friendly power. Writing congress. Carrying signs. Protesting the slow, sometimes indiscernible progress. Our survival rests in the balance -- and that's not an overly dramatic statement. We have big problems. Many of the solutions will come from the infinitesimal world of nanotechnology. And we're dependent on entrepreneurs to do what most of us can't -- they are by nature anything but apathetic.

Chances are they watched Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future -- particularly the scene in which he returns from his trip 30 years into the future, casually picks a banana peel out of the garbage and slips it into his Delorian's microbial fuel cell chamber, demonstrating that organic matter, such as that in agricultural and municipal waste, is a tremendously rich source of energy. In fact, as much as 80 percent of municipal waste is organic, and right now -- not 30 years ahead -- we can use microbial fuel cells to extract energy from biomass and produce electrical power. The problem is efficiency -- inefficient electron transfer yields low currents. However, by using semiconducting nanoparticles to amplify electron transfer, researchers can increase output significantly. Labs at the University of Michigan are creating a new generation of microbial fuel cells that integrate nanotechnology and optimized fuel-cell designs to increase power. Entrepreneurs are launching companies such as Trophos Energy on the bet that microbial fuel cell technology will be a hot item in the green revolution.

Applied Materials is another mover in the nano-energy field. They use a thin polymer film with nanoscale semiconductor materials and single-walled carbon nanotubes to produce a polymer solar cell that maximizes energy conversion. (It's worth noting that, although consumer demand for solar power has increased in the United States, it hasn't been significant enough for Applied Materials -- the world's biggest solar equipment manufacturer -- to build their cells in America. So, right now, according to The New York Times, "federal and state subsidies for installing solar systems are largely paying for the cost of importing solar panels made in China, by Chinese workers, using hi-tech manufacturing equipment invented in America.")

Nanosolar has been using a high-speed process to produce next-generation thin-film solar cells. The printing technique is two orders of magnitude more capital-efficient than a high-vacuum process. The new process works as well in production as it does in the lab.

The number of nano-energy startups and research programs grows and grows, but we have yet to see a significant dent in the carbon-energy dependence that hangs over us like a cloud. It's time for me to stop living as a partner with my apathy. And if I can kick apathy out of the house, so can you. Time to make some noise. Ask hard questions. Write our representatives in Washington. Carry signs. Raise a little consciousness. And give a special helping hand to those green-eyed entrepreneurs who have the know-how but lack support

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Nano Entrepreneur -- Part II


Nanotechnology and Data Storage

A computer-literate friend once told me, "You’ll never, ever need a hard drive bigger than 175 megs." Those were the days when hard drives were just beginning to replace those big, flexible floppy disks. My short-sighted friend didn’t see what was coming -- storage devices that hold gigabytes...terabytes...of information, and palm-sized devices that hold all of your word processing files, spreadsheets, pictures, music and movies.

Data storage is getting bigger and better. And we'll need more tomorrow.

Nanotechnology has had, and will continue to have, a revolutionary effect on data storage -- it might lead to high-density storage with life expectancy of a billion years. In 2004, revenues from data storage based on nanotechnology totaled $97 million. By 2011, that figure might reach $65.7 billion. And as each innovation occurs, opportunities will pop up for entrepreneurs who have the insight and passion to transform these new ideas into viable consumer products.

Following a pivotal breakthrough (an "atomic switch"), Colossal Storage Corporation, an R&D company that focuses on 2D Spintronic and 3D Holographic Optical Nanostorage, has patented a 100-terabyte, 3.5-inch disk.  The company feels that's just the leading edge of where their technology will take them. 

Researchers in Israel combined a natural protein with clusters of silicon nanoparticles to create arrays of stored bits of information as close as 11 nanometers apart.

A University of Michigan engineering researcher used self-assembling nanoparticles to fabricate negative index materials (NIM) with complex geometries and structures of higher order. A "superlens" made from NIM will likely have applications in the manufacture of smaller and faster chips, and data storage devices of multiple-terabyte capacity.

Nantero and Hewlett-Packard are leaders in nano data storage. Nantero has developed a carbon nanotube-based crossbar memory called Nano-RAM (a high-density nonvolatile  RAM), and Hewlett-Packard is exploring the use of memristor material (a passive two-terminal circuit element that maintains a functional relationship between the time integrals of current and voltage), which the company sees as a future replacement of flash memory.

It's ironic that the infinitesimal world of nanotechnology is becoming the basis for vast quantities of data storage. And it's a testament to the power of technology and the insight of entrepreneurs that at one time, not so terribly long ago, I could buy only flexible floppy discs, and then a 175-meg hard drive ("more storage than I would ever need"), but now there's enough memory on one disc to hold five Libraries of Congress -- enough, I imagine, to render my nearsighted computer friend speechless.



Next, "The Nano Entrepreneur – Part III, Nanotechnology and Green Energy."

The Nano Entrepreneur -- Part II


Nanotechnology and Data Storage

A computer-literate friend once told me, "You’ll never, ever need a hard drive bigger than 175 megs." Those were the days when hard drives were just beginning to replace those big, flexible floppy disks. My short-sighted friend didn’t see what was coming -- storage devices that hold gigabytes...terabytes...of information, and palm-sized devices that hold all of your word processing files, spreadsheets, pictures, music and movies.

Data storage is getting bigger and better. And we'll need more tomorrow.

Nanotechnology has had, and will continue to have, a revolutionary effect on data storage -- it might lead to high-density storage with life expectancy of a billion years. In 2004, revenues from data storage based on nanotechnology totaled $97 million. By 2011, that figure might reach $65.7 billion. And as each innovation occurs, opportunities will pop up for entrepreneurs who have the insight and passion to transform these new ideas into viable consumer products.

Following a pivotal breakthrough (an "atomic switch"), Colossal Storage Corporation, an R&D company that focuses on 2D Spintronic and 3D Holographic Optical Nanostorage, has patented a 100-terabyte, 3.5-inch disk.  The company feels that's just the leading edge of where their technology will take them. 

Researchers in Israel combined a natural protein with clusters of silicon nanoparticles to create arrays of stored bits of information as close as 11 nanometers apart.

A University of Michigan engineering researcher used self-assembling nanoparticles to fabricate negative index materials (NIM) with complex geometries and structures of higher order. A "superlens" made from NIM will likely have applications in the manufacture of smaller and faster chips, and data storage devices of multiple-terabyte capacity.

Nantero and Hewlett-Packard are leaders in nano data storage. Nantero has developed a carbon nanotube-based crossbar memory called Nano-RAM (a high-density nonvolatile  RAM), and Hewlett-Packard is exploring the use of memristor material (a passive two-terminal circuit element that maintains a functional relationship between the time integrals of current and voltage), which the company sees as a future replacement of flash memory.

It's ironic that the infinitesimal world of nanotechnology is becoming the basis for vast quantities of data storage. And it's a testament to the power of technology and the insight of entrepreneurs that at one time, not so terribly long ago, I could buy only flexible floppy discs, and then a 175-meg hard drive ("more storage than I would ever need"), but now there's enough memory on one disc to hold five Libraries of Congress -- enough, I imagine, to render my nearsighted computer friend speechless.



Next, "The Nano Entrepreneur – Part III, Nanotechnology and Green Energy."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Nano Entrepreneur -- Part I

Thousands of today's best business opportunities fit on the point of a pin -- nanotechnology has given entrepreneurial minds the tools to solve problems and cure a world of pain with products that, even a decade ago, were beyond our capabilities to design, test and manufacture.

Doug Neal, managing director at the University of Michigan's Center for Entrepreneurship, said that the 'high rate of change occurring in the nanotechnology space and in broad industry applications creates unique challenges for entrepreneurs. Nanotechnology entrepreneurs need to be especially focused on both their own particular invention as well as monitoring the tremendous innovations happening around them."

In fact, many nano-entrepreneurs have already made -- and will continue to make -- a significant impact in three large areas: materials, data storage and green energy.

Part I – Nanotechnology and Materials

Nanotech has quite literally woven itself into the fabric of the marketplace. The textile and materials industry jumped on the nanowagon a number of years ago, creating products such as stain-resistant fabrics. Nano-Tex, one of the earliest spinoffs, is showing up in Brooks Brothers shirts, Nordstrom ties and Travelsmith sports jackets. Whereas normal fabric absorbs stains like grape juice, materials such as Nano-Tex have coatings with nano-engineered molecules that attach themselves to one another and then to a fabric, forming a nano shield against stains. And unlike like Scotch-Guard or traditional coatings, Nan-Tex doesn't change the texture of the fabric.

The applications of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) in biomedical applications are the stuff of what formerly was science fiction. With a large part of the human body consisting of carbon, materials constructed with CNTs are biocompatible, making it possible to develop nano detectors that identify tumors as small as 100 cells; nano-scale, programmable antibodies that find and destroy bacteria, viruses and cancers without damaging healthy tissue; anti-microbial bandages that help prevent infection; and antibacterial coatings on hospital walls and aircraft interiors that "clean" the air. Entrepreneurs such as those at Carbon Design Innovations, Inc. are marketing two new neural probes types with CNT tips.

The military got very interested, weaving pure carbon nanotubes into ultra-strong body and vehicle armor. In particular, they envisioned nano-clothing with microscopic wires woven into the fabric, able to transform uniforms into communication devices that track vital signs, and heat up or cool down as weather changes. A "smart uniform" will eventually monitor a soldier's position and steer him through a battlefield. Sensatex, based in Bethesda, Maryland, is the result of that innovative material.

New materials similar to ceramics are resistant to chemical attack, conduct electricity and heat, yet can act as a thermal barrier.

Many researchers and corporations have already developed CNT-based air and water filtration devices. Nano-materials will impart interactive functions to windows and walls and appliances – they’ll set architects free, giving them the tools to create homes that communicate in real-time with their owners.

Nanocomposites are transforming packaging. Companies are already incorporating nanocomposite plastics into consumer and industrial packaging thats lighter and stronger. And we now have packaging with a high IQ -- "smart packaging" can sense if FOOD has spoiled or undergone tampering.

Nano materials in the hands of entrepreneurs are becoming the building blocks of billion-dollar industries. So bigger isn't always better, unless you're talking about well formed, entrepreneurial ideas.

Next, "The Nano Entrepreneur – Part II, Nanotechnology and Data Storage."

The Nano Entrepreneur -- Part I

Thousands of today's best business opportunities fit on the point of a pin -- nanotechnology has given entrepreneurial minds the tools to solve problems and cure a world of pain with products that, even a decade ago, were beyond our capabilities to design, test and manufacture.

Doug Neal, managing director at the University of Michigan's Center for Entrepreneurship, said that the 'high rate of change occurring in the nanotechnology space and in broad industry applications creates unique challenges for entrepreneurs. Nanotechnology entrepreneurs need to be especially focused on both their own particular invention as well as monitoring the tremendous innovations happening around them."

In fact, many nano-entrepreneurs have already made -- and will continue to make -- a significant impact in three large areas: materials, data storage and green energy.

Part I – Nanotechnology and Materials

Nanotech has quite literally woven itself into the fabric of the marketplace. The textile and materials industry jumped on the nanowagon a number of years ago, creating products such as stain-resistant fabrics. Nano-Tex, one of the earliest spinoffs, is showing up in Brooks Brothers shirts, Nordstrom ties and Travelsmith sports jackets. Whereas normal fabric absorbs stains like grape juice, materials such as Nano-Tex have coatings with nano-engineered molecules that attach themselves to one another and then to a fabric, forming a nano shield against stains. And unlike like Scotch-Guard or traditional coatings, Nan-Tex doesn't change the texture of the fabric.

The applications of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) in biomedical applications are the stuff of what formerly was science fiction. With a large part of the human body consisting of carbon, materials constructed with CNTs are biocompatible, making it possible to develop nano detectors that identify tumors as small as 100 cells; nano-scale, programmable antibodies that find and destroy bacteria, viruses and cancers without damaging healthy tissue; anti-microbial bandages that help prevent infection; and antibacterial coatings on hospital walls and aircraft interiors that "clean" the air. Entrepreneurs such as those at Carbon Design Innovations, Inc. are marketing two new neural probes types with CNT tips.

The military got very interested, weaving pure carbon nanotubes into ultra-strong body and vehicle armor. In particular, they envisioned nano-clothing with microscopic wires woven into the fabric, able to transform uniforms into communication devices that track vital signs, and heat up or cool down as weather changes. A "smart uniform" will eventually monitor a soldier's position and steer him through a battlefield. Sensatex, based in Bethesda, Maryland, is the result of that innovative material.

New materials similar to ceramics are resistant to chemical attack, conduct electricity and heat, yet can act as a thermal barrier.

Many researchers and corporations have already developed CNT-based air and water filtration devices. Nano-materials will impart interactive functions to windows and walls and appliances – they’ll set architects free, giving them the tools to create homes that communicate in real-time with their owners.

Nanocomposites are transforming packaging. Companies are already incorporating nanocomposite plastics into consumer and industrial packaging thats lighter and stronger. And we now have packaging with a high IQ -- "smart packaging" can sense if FOOD has spoiled or undergone tampering.

Nano materials in the hands of entrepreneurs are becoming the building blocks of billion-dollar industries. So bigger isn't always better, unless you're talking about well formed, entrepreneurial ideas.

Next, "The Nano Entrepreneur – Part II, Nanotechnology and Data Storage."

Friday, September 4, 2009

FUNdamentals -- If it ain't broke...

The owner: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The mechanic: "If it ain't broke, I can still find something to fix." The engineer: "If it ain't broke, it don't have enough features yet."

FUNdamentals -- If it ain't broke...

The owner: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The mechanic: "If it ain't broke, I can still find something to fix." The engineer: "If it ain't broke, it don't have enough features yet."