Biomimetics could also solve the longstanding problem of how to store large amounts of electricity efficiently. This could finally open the floodgates for electrically-powered vehicles by enabling them at last to match the performance and range of their petrol or diesel-based counterparts. One highlight of the ESF conference was a presentation by Angela Belcher, who played a major role in pioneering nanowires made from viruses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US. Bizarre as it sounds, there is a type of virus that infects E.coli bacteria (a bacteriophage) capable of coating itself in electrically-conducting materials such as gold. This can be used to build compact high capacity batteries, with the added advantage that it can potentially assemble itself, exploiting the natural replicating ability of the virus. The key to the high capacity in small space lies in the microscopic size of the nanowires constructed by the viruses this means that a greater surface area of charge carrying capacity can be packed into a given volume.
However, commercial realisation of biomimetic and other emerging technologies lies far in the future. But meantime, as delegates heard from several speakers at the ESF conference, nanotechnology has an important contribution to make, improving the efficiency of existing energy-generating systems during the transition from fossil fuels. For example, Robert Schlgl outlined how nano-scale catalysts can be used to improve the efficiency of engines or systems consuming fossil fuels.
Inspired by such presentations, delegates at the conference were unanimous in calling for a follow up. "The conference was regarded as a real success and a new proposal for a conferen
|Contact: Professor Bengt Kasemo|
European Science Foundation