October 21, 2004 10:22 AM PDT
Nanoparticles for energy, explosions
The San Diego-based start-up has created a manufacturing process for producing small, stable metallic particles that consist of only a few atoms. By reducing the number of atoms per particle, manufacturers can better exploit the inherent properties of these elements in chemical reactions.
Start-up QuantumSphere devises a manufacturing process designed to help get nanometals into more products.
Nanotech versions of aluminum and nickel point the way to faster rockets, better bombs and cheaper fuel cells. But QuantumSphere is heading into a tough marketplace.
With aluminum, that means more powerful explosions. Munitions makers will likely be able to create aerial bombs that are smaller and lighter, but more powerful than current weapons. A rocket with nanoaluminum-enhanced fuel will reach a target velocity faster.
"It will accelerate to Mach 8 because of the higher burn rate," said Douglas Carpenter, chief scientific officer and co-founder of QuantumSphere. "If you can shoot someone down before they can shoot you, that is good."
By contrast, nanonickel could be used to replace platinum and other fairly expensive elements in catalytic converters and fuel cells. This shift could lead to cheaper hydrogen fuel cells for homes and cars in the growing alternative-energy market. Some Japanese manufacturers will come out with hydrogen fuel systems for homes in the first quarter of next year. Both metals can also be used in new types of coatings.
"Nickel is pretty much a garden-variety material," said QuantumSphere CEO Kevin Maloney. "It is a direct replacement for platinum."
NASA, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy and Ballard Power Systems, among others, are already customers.
As space-age as it sounds, nanotechnology--the science of making products out of components or molecules that measure less than 100 nanometers (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter)--has begun to sneak into the general market. Pants, bicycle components and car parts sprinkled with specialized nanoparticles have already, or soon will, come out. Socks with silver nanoparticles aim to prevent foot odor by killing bacteria.