“If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

Monday, March 17, 2008

Nanotechnology: The Future of Automotive Technology?

Nanotechnology is described in the Center for Responsible Technology as that field of applied science that deals with the “engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale.” Kind of deep, huh? Well, basically what it means is the manipulation of matter at the atomic or molecular level. It’s fairly hard to explain ‘cause I’m not a physicist, but Dr. Ralph Merkle, a Nanotechnology Theorist, provides an interesting and informative illustration of what nanotechnology is all about, and here it is:
Manufactured products are made from atoms. The properties of those products depend on how those atoms are arranged. If we rearrange the atoms in coal we can make diamond. If we rearrange the atoms in sand (and add a few other trace elements) we can make computer chips. If we rearrange the atoms in dirt, water and air we can make potatoes.

Today’s manufacturing methods are very crude at the molecular level. Casting, grinding, milling and even lithography move atoms in great thundering statistical herds. It's like trying to make things out of LEGO blocks with boxing gloves on your hands. Yes, you can push the LEGO blocks into great heaps and pile them up, but you can't really snap them together the way you'd like.

In the future, nanotechnology will let us take off the boxing gloves. We'll be able to snap together the fundamental building blocks of nature easily, inexpensively and in most of the ways permitted by the laws of physics. This will be essential if we are to continue the revolution in computer hardware beyond about the next decade, and will also let us fabricate an entire new generation of products that are cleaner, stronger, lighter, and more precise.
Once nanotechnology is applied in the field of automotive technology, car engineers will be able to manufacture products that are more efficient, economic, durable and even environment-friendly. This is made possible by the fact that automakers can now reduce or altogether eliminate the minute errors that are contained in their products because they now have access to areas which were virtually inaccessible before, and it’s all because of the wonders of nanotechnology. To cite an example, Jack Uldrich, a futurist and author of “The Next Big Thing is Really Small: How Nanotechnology Will Change the Future of Your Business” relates in an article in Nanotechnology Now the innovations that can and will be brought about by this new technology, to wit:
“…nanotechnology will also lead to the creation of new and more effective catalysts which will reduce the amount of platinum and palladium automobile manufacturers use. Nanoparticles will also be used to improve fuel efficiency. In fact, Oxonica is already testing its nanoparticles on buses in England (where they have demonstrated a 4.3% in fuel efficiency), and new nanocoatings such as Ecology Coatings is developing will reduce both the amount of material and energy OEMs use to coat existing auto parts.”


“Again, thanks to advances in nanotechnology (this time in the form of new nanomaterials and silicon nanowires), a number of manufacturers are producing extraordinary leaps in battery technology. Companies such as EEStor, A123 Systems and Altair Nanotechnologies should all be closely monitored because they could soon be building batteries capable of powering a car for 300 to 400 miles. (As an added benefit, they might need only minutes to recharge.)”
This breakthrough can lead to so many positive changes and innovations that the future seems to be very bright for the automotive world. And this also redounds to the betterment of the environment as well as of the community. Who wouldn’t want that, right? This new technology definitely has my support.