Arnold Kling  

Nanotechnology and the Great Race

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I once wrote an essay that I called The Great Race, in which I argued that two factors that affect the future are technological change in the private sector and the growth of entitlement spending. Many posts in this blog have focused on entitlements. I focus less here on technology. But several recent articles on nanotechnology are interesting.

Mike Treder of Small Times writes,

Imagine a world with billions of desktop-size, portable, nonpolluting, cheap machines that can manufacture almost anything-from clothing to furniture to electronics, and much more – in just a few hours. Today, such devices do not exist. But in the years ahead, this advanced form of nanotechnology could create the next Industrial Revolution...

The Washington Post surveyed the field in a recent article.

It is too soon to say whether nano will wean society from dirty technologies or simply produce its own versions of the asbestos, diesel soot and DDT debacles that are the legacy of the last industrial revolution. The science is still new, and the rhetoric on both sides remains defensive and polarized.

The San Francisco Chronicle interviewed three experts. Venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson talks about near-term applications (meaning three to five years away).

In energy, there's everything from energy storage in batteries (to) new solid-state batteries, new solar cells like Nanosys (Inc. of Palo Alto) and Konarka (Technologies Inc. of Massachusetts) and others who are finding novel ways to manufacture solar cells.

Generally speaking, if you control matter more precisely, you can get more efficiency out of any process. Then there is a variety of near-term opportunities in drug delivery and eventually therapeutics. But diagnostics, sensors, initially, because you don't have to go through the same hoops for one of those products as you do for a therapeutic agent.

My suspicion is that energy conservation and better batteries may be the "killer app" for nanotechnology over the next decade. Of course, energy is Lynne Kiesling's turf, including her recent posts on cars as distributed generation sites, potential superconductors, and the Toyota Prius.

For Discussion. What factors will cause the price of energy to rise over the next decade, and what factors will cause the price of energy to fall?

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COMMENTS (2 to date)
Eric Krieg writes:

I detect some miscommunication in these "nanotechnology" articles. People are throwing around the word in a very loose, imprecise way.

When I think of nanotech, I think of micro electric mechanical machines. Things like gears, etched onto silicon.

That is not what these people are talking about when they bring up batteries and solar cells.

Lawrance George Lux writes:

First to the practical aspects: Nanotechnology can be used quite effectively to increase the 'burn' efficiency of fuels; it can be expected to be the only method internal combustion engines can attain 100 mpg. This can be done with surgically pre-oxegenated fuel. Home and Office windows will be turned into solar generators, while still functional to view through, and simply plugged in like a lamp or used as a electric heater equal to heating a room. New forms of fuel will be manufactured out of garbage and waste products.

Speculative: Nanotechnology may be a big threat. Spills will be greater and more impactive than Chemicals. To the Sc-Fi freaks: the Past is the subset of the Present, and the Present is the subset of the Future; nanobots of the Future could be the viruses of today, which have simply drifted down into the Past which is Our Present. lgl

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