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Nanotechnology Enabled Efficient Generation of Renewable Energy (Nano-Energy)

Professor Datuk Dr. Halimaton Hamdan, FASc, FIKM, FMSA
UTM RAZAK School of Engineering and Advanced Technology,
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Kuala Lumpur,
Kuala Lumpur


Nanostructured materials and  catalysis


In order to meet the increasing energy demand and objectives of Malaysia Energy Policy, scientific research on a reliable and affordable fuel mix in renewable energy such as solar, fuel cells and biofuel is needed to provide energy that enables economic growth and societal advancements. The proposed program aims to contribute significantly to the GNI of Malaysia in three energy domains of nanotechnology:

  1. Low temperature solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFC) for power industry
  2. Flexible dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSC): printed solar cells for an economically viable, clean renewable energy
  3. Second generation catalytic pyrolisis conversion of palm oil EFB biomass to jet fuel. All the projects provides solutions to be developed by molecular manipulation at the nano scale using novel local nano materials, catalysts, process and technology.

The global energy demands will increase to around 35 percent from 2010 to 2040. The continuing increase of world energy consumption and associated problems (natural energy resources depletion, carbon dioxide emissions, global warming, and energy security issue, etc.) make spare and efficient use of energy a cornerstone of energy policies of all economies. Increasing energy production in attempts to meet energy security needs can be substituted, fully or partly, by increasing energy efficiency. According to the International Energy Agency, improved energy efficiency in buildings, industrial processes and transportation could reduce the world's energy needs in 2050 by one third, and help control global emissions of greenhouse gases. The 2010 APEC Growth Strategy and 2011 Leaders’ Declaration recognized that the development of nanotechnology could significantly contribute to reduce aggregate energy intensity by 45 percent by 2035.

Nanotechnologies have demonstrated an inexhaustible potential in a wide range of applications - from efficient usage of traditional energy sources to development and implementation of new generation technologies based on renewable sources. Nowadays, a lot of materials in use are characterized by low effectiveness and high energy consumption. Nanotechnologies are becoming a basis for nanocomposites and catalysts that enable the production of lighter, more durable and stronger materials through more efficient processes with the same resources, thus proportionally decreasing the energy consumption related to their use and production. Specific nanotechnologies are also important for ensuring energy efficiency at all stages of energy delivery to the consumer (generation, storage, transportation, consumption).
Oil is still the major consumption worldwide with 34%. Oil and gas have been the main energy sources in Malaysia. However with oil reserves to last another 19 years, there is a need to strengthen the role of renewable energy. Therefore, a diverse, reliable and affordable fuel mix in renewable energy such as solar and biofuels and greater advances in technology is expected to provide solution that enables economic growth and societal advancements.
Malaysia energy development is currently guided by the National Energy Policy, which was introduced in 1979 with three objectives: Supply; to ensure adequate, secure and cost-effective supply of energy, Utilization; to promote efficient utilization of energy and discourage wasteful and non-productive patterns of energy consumption, and finally Environmental; to ensure factors pertaining to environmental protection are not neglected in the production and utilization of energy. In 2001, the Five-Fuel Diversification Policy added renewable energy (RE) as a fifth fuel source to complement oil, natural gas, coal and hydro. Solar, fuel cells and biofuels, found in abundance in Malaysia are enablers of strong economic growth if coupled with an emphasis towards energy efficient technology; both on production and utilisation, while meeting environmental objectives.

The climatic conditions in Malaysia are favourable for the development of solar energy due to abundant sunshine with the average daily solar insulation equivalent to 15 MJ/m2. The deployment of solar PV system to generate electricity in Malaysia is still very low because of the high cost of Si and the processing into solar PV panels. Dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSC) is technically attractive because it is made of low-cost materials and for manufacturing, it does not require elaborate apparatus such as high vacuum processing used in the older solid-state cell design. Flexible solar cells can be considered as competitive alternatives in a number of applications with varied requirement for efficiency, stability, functionality and cost. With the successful fabrication of a low-cost functioning dye solar module from non-toxic and abundant materials that performed better in real solar conditions, the objective to make clean, renewable energy economically viable in Malaysia is achievable.

Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell (PEMFC) is a viable alternative source of power for both mobile and stationary applications owing to their high-energy efficiency, zero emission and environmental friendly nature. Materials science studies on electrolytes and electrode materials that can lead to energy efficient high performance fuel cells. Anticipated results include advancing inexpensive and reliable electricity sources for distributed energy generation in remote areas. Nano zeolites, mesoporous materials and hybrid carbon-silica based nanomaterials are potential proton conducting membrane due to their significant moderate proton conductivity, high surface to volume ratio, excellent water retention at high temperatures and molecular sieving capabilities.

Malaysia’s palm oil sector generates the largest amount of biomass, estimated at 100 million dry tonnes by 2020. The vast majority of the oil palm biomass being generated today is returned to the field to release its nutrients and replenish the soil. However there is also the potential to utilise this biomass for a variety of additional end uses, with the highest-value opportunities being biofuels and biobased chemicals. Malaysia through the National Biomass Strategy 2020 is fully committed to making new wealth creation from biomass a reality for the nation. In addition to a significant incremental contribution to GNI of RM 30 billion by 2020, conversion of biomass to biofuel is a way to meet its renewable energy target, reduce emissions and offers an opportunity for Malaysia to build several biofuel and biobased chemical downstream clusters. Longer-term projects around biofuels and biobased chemicals are expected to reach commercial scale only in the 2015–2020 timeframe, pending on an advancement of a solution by local technology.


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