The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) recently announced Nano4EARTH, a National Nanotechnology Challenge to develop technologies and industries that advance the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to tackling the climate crisis. To energize a wide-ranging community and build a foundation for the challenge, the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) organized the Nano4EARTH Kick-off Workshop in late January. More than 400 people across sectors, with diverse expertise and perspectives, participated in the event.
Discussions focused on identifying nanotechnologies that are poised to have an impact on climate change in four years or less, in addition to sharing resources available to address barriers to entrepreneurship and technology adoption. Goals and metrics to maintain momentum throughout the challenge were also identified. New connections and networks spanning federal agencies, non-federal organizations, and industry were created and several examples of collaborations and events centered on nanotechnology and climate change developed organically between participants.
Some common themes included:
- Battery technology has seen increased adoption in personal vehicles and long-term energy storage solutions, but further advances in Li-ion, as well as new chemistries and architectures, show tremendous and broad potential. It is critical that research directions are well matched with particular use cases.
- Catalysts leveraging new understandings of nanoscale materials and phenomena could optimize many high-greenhouse gas emitting industrial processes, minimize the need for rare-earth metals, and serve as a precursor for alternative energy sources such as green hydrogen and electrofuels.
- Coatings and other material innovations are likely to increase the overall efficiency of nearly any industrial process and lead to more resilient structures and devices, especially in changing and harsh environments. Examples include reflective coatings, corrosion protection, heat management in computing, lubricants and other additives, and membranes for separations. Drop-in solutions would have a more near-term impact.
- Capture of greenhouse gasses through advanced materials and sorbents (e.g., metal organic frameworks) and nature mimicking processes (e.g., artificial photosynthesis), especially deployed at the point of production, could be impactful but deploying at scale has significant challenges. In the near term, renewable energy production and efficient transmission is worthy of increased attention.
In the months to come, the NNCO will convene a series of roundtable discussions that focus on some of the highest potential nanotechnologies identified at the kick-off workshop. Subject matter experts and federal partners will be asked to match nanotechnology opportunities to urgent climate change needs, with strong consideration of the broader societal needs and impacts. Feedback from the kick-off workshop will also inform additional activities and events to facilitate conversations and collaborations across this growing community.
Other resources and related events can be found on the Nano4EARTH webpage.