The benefits to energy and space applications of advanced nanotechnology will be huge, but nearer-term we are already seeing some very promising results from simple aluminum nanoparticles. From University of Wisconsin on the work of engineering prof Pradeep Rohatgi, via Foresight Senior Associate Brian Wang:
The newest class of MMCs [metal matrix composites] that his lab is developing fortifies aluminum with nanoparticles to produce materials that can withstand enormous amounts of stress, are exceptionally hard, but are also lightweight. Nanoparticles are smaller than 100 nanometers (about the size of a baseball shrunk to one-millionth of its original size) that sometimes behave differently than larger particles.
A nanostructured aluminum can be 10 times stronger than conventional aluminum alloys.
Strong materials save energy because there’s less mass to haul around. If this goal isn’t sexy enough for you, check out Robert Klinger’s work at Argonne National Lab on “Opening the door to faster rockets and high-capacity hydrogen storage” (PDF):
Finely divided aluminum has been a subject of intense interest over the years for use in energetic materials (those that can store large amounts of chemical energy and release it very quickly) such as propellants and pyrotechnics (fireworks). More recently, aluminum nanoparticles have attracted interest as building blocks for high-capacity hydrogen storage materials.
Currently, micron-sized aluminum is commonly used, but interest is focused on nano-sized aluminum particles whose smaller size provides more surface area for reaction, leading to faster overall energy storage and release. Making aluminum nanoparticles has remained a challenge because finely divided aluminum powders quickly agglomerate.
Argonne’s Chemical Engineering Division has developed a unique process for making aluminum nanoparticles that will not agglomerate, but instead remain dispersed in solution as stable solid materials. This allows study of the oxidation of these energetic materials for use in propellants and their hydrogenation for hydrogen storage…
If simple nanoparticles can do this, the eras of real nanodevices and productive nanosystems should be quite something. Let’s hurry up on this R&D. —Christine