Nanotechnology and Fossil Fuels
James L. Salmon, Esq.
President, Collaborative Construction Resources, LLC
July 20, 2008
Energy is the world's largest market, and one that has political and strategic implications and impacts unmatched by any other sector. Most countries are entirely dependent for their energy needs on finite fossil fuels. Fluctuations in energy prices can bring economies to their knees, and vault minor regional players onto the global geo-political stage. Understanding and leveraging nanotechnology in ways that expand the economic and ecological viability of fossil fuels has the power to free many from the tyranny of uncertain global energy markets.
This article focuses on the big-not-so-technical big picture of the role nanotechnology can play in chemical catalysts that break fossil fuels into their molecular parts, resulting in higher rates of energy production and more environmentally friendly fuels. While catalysts are as old as the chemical industry, recent advances in nanocatalysis have the potential to revolutionize our global energy markets, especially the fossil fuels market. Those who control and adapt to these new technologies will, of course, have more control over their own political and economic destinies. Against that backdrop it is interesting to note that the most advanced catalytic technologies are being researched, tested and deployed by
Even though the commercialization of these technologies remains over the horizon, interest by the US Department of Energy and the Chinese government has already inspired a flurry of activity. At least one small company has reportedly signed a $2 billion contract for the commercialization of its nanocatalysis technology for coal liquefaction in a remote region of
Nanocatalysis has the potential to:
• Allow remote regions of the world to become less dependant on foreign oil by producing liquid and gas fuels from coal reserves;
• Allow economical production of so-called stranded gas, which accounts for 80% of the worlds known gas reserves;
• Reduce oil prices below the level desired by OPEC;
• Free countries with large coal reserves, like the
• Increase offshore oil production, narrowing the difference between production costs and world prices, reducing prices globally;
• Shift some greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles to centralized locations where they can be more effectively managed, ultimately paving the way to a hydrogen economy;
• Reduce emissions of pollutants like nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide (the culprit in acid rain) and other particulate matter; and
• Promote waste recycling through conversion of plastic, rubber, municipal waste and waste oil to clean fuels.
Global distribution of world coal reserves differs greatly from that of world oil reserves. Substantial coal reserves exist in
Nanotechnologies have already resulted in economically viable production of transportation fuels, particularly ultra-clean diesel, in
While emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants are not likely to slow much given global growth, new technologies offer promises of improvement, and might lead to a cleaner hydrogen economy. These new industries will not spring up overnight, but advances in fuel cell technology, through nanocatalysis and other nanotechnologies, show great promise of bringing cheaper more environmentally friendly energy on line.
Global dependence on fossil fuels will not be reduced substantially in the foreseeable future. However, the research now underway demonstrates that we can, through a collaborative effort, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and improve the productivity of the fossil fuels we do use. Ultimately, given sufficient political will, all countries can reduce their dependence on foreign oil by learning to utilize local fossil fuels more efficiently and in a more ecologically friendly manner. To achieve these ends, however, a collaborative coalition must be mobilized at the local, state, national and global level. If we will act in a collaborative fashion we can achieve these lofty goals!