Nanoscale design to enable the revolution in renewable energy
The creation of a sustainable energy generation, storage, and distribution infrastructure represents a global grand challenge that requires massive transnational investments in the research and development of energy technologies that will provide the amount of energy needed on a sufficient scale and timeframe with minimal impact on the environment and have limited economic and societal disruption during implementation. In this opinion paper, we focus on an important set of solar, thermal, and electrochemical energy conversion, storage, and conservation technologies specifically related to recent and prospective advances in nanoscale science and technology that offer high potential in addressing the energy challenge. We approach this task from a two-fold perspective: analyzing the fundamental physicochemical principles and engineering aspects of these energy technologies and identifying unique opportunities enabled by nanoscale design of materials, processes, and systems in order to improve performance and reduce costs. Our principal goal is to establish a roadmap for research and development activities in nanoscale science and technology that would significantly advance and accelerate the implementation of renewable energy technologies. In all cases we make specific recommendations for research needs in the near-term (2–5 years), mid-term (5–10 years) and long-term (>10 years), as well as projecting a timeline for maturation of each technological solution. We also identify a number of priority themes in basic energy science that cut across the entire spectrum of energy conversion, storage, and conservation technologies. We anticipate that the conclusions and recommendations herein will be of use not only to the technical community, but also to policy makers and the broader public, occasionally with an admitted emphasis on the US perspective.