The basic conversion of primary sources of energy into heat, electricity and kinetic energy requires utmost efficiency. Efficiency increases, especially in fossil-fired gas and steam power plants, could help avoid considerable amounts of carbon dioxide emissions.
Higher power plant efficiencies, however, require higher operating temperatures and thus heat-resistant turbine materials. Improvements are possible, for example, through nano-scale heat and corrosion protection layers for turbine blades in power plants or aircraft engines to enhance the efficiency through increased operating temperatures or the application of lightweight construction materials .
Nano-optimized membranes can extend the scope of possibilities for separation and climate-neutral storage of carbon dioxide for power generation in coal-fired power plants, in order to render this important method of power generation environmentally friendlier in the long run. The energy yield from the conversion of chemical energy through fuel cells can be stepped up by nano-structured electrodes, catalysts and membranes, which results in economic application possibilities in automobiles, buildings and the operation of mobile electronics.
Thermoelectric energy conversion seems to be comparably promising. Nano-structured semiconductors with optimized boundary layer design contribute to increases in efficiency that could pave the way for a broad application in the utilization of waste heat, for example in automobiles, or even of human body heat for portable electronics in textiles.
To achieve sustainable energy supply, and parallel to the optimized development of available energy sources, it is necessary to improve the efficiency of energy use and to avoid unnecessary energy consumption. This applies to all branches of industry and private households. Nanotechnologies provide a multitude of approaches to energy saving.
Examples are the reduction of fuel consumption in automobiles through lightweight construction materials on the basis of nanocomposites, the optimization in fuel combustion through wear-resistant, lighter engine components and nanoparticular fuel additives or even nanoparticles for optimized tires with low rolling resistance.
Considerable energy savings are realizable through tribological layers for mechanical components in plants and machines. Building technology also provides great potentials for energy savings, which could be tapped, for example, by nanoporous thermal insulation material suitably applicable in the energetic rehabilitation of old buildings.