What Is ESG’s Significance To Business Leaders?

No matter where you sit in a business, you’ll likely have heard of environmental, social, and governance (ESG). Your peers in finance, legal/compliance, and risk will have heard of it a lot. And we’ll all be hearing a lot more about it in the coming years. But ESG can mean a lot of different things, depending on who is saying it and the context in which they’re saying it, which leads to confusion.

What Is ESG?

Essentially, ESG denotes the qualitative and quantitative data that either:

  • describes a business’s environmental status, societal characteristics, and corporate governance (thus ‘E’ for environment, ‘S’ for social and ‘G’ for governance) or …
  • … reflects a business’s or sector’s or investment’s exposure to, and management of, environmental-, social-, or governance-related risks.

The data points can vary, but the World Economic Forum and Sustainability Accounting Standards Board provide common lists.

The Significance For Businesses

Interest in ESG started with arguments such as those of Harvard economist Michael Porter that businesses (and capitalism as a whole) benefit from thinking about value generation beyond the purely economic — that is, businesses should focus their value generation on all of their stakeholders (including communities, employees, and customers), not just shareholders or owners.

This broader interpretation of value would provide for longer-term competitiveness, profit, and business health, because it both drives down risk and makes the most of scarce resources. In fact, it was the investment community that coined the term, as they sought to widen their analysis to nonfinancial factors

This broader understanding of value generation has worked its way into the echelons of corporate management; even the cradle of Milton “profit is everything” Friedman, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, teaches ESG.

ESG performance, the managerial decisions that drive it, and the data points that reflect it have become a form of proxy measurement on the quality of a business’s management, right alongside its financial data. Naturally, they have then become a matter of board attention, leaders’ attention, and operational discussions, with supporting functions, processes, and technologies across a company.

ESG now features much more prominently in just about every company’s key strategic discussions, especially at its highest levels. As the battle over Exxon last year and McDonald’s right now show, these decisions determine the futures of companies. And Elon Musk’s recent ESG post on Twitter, meant to disparage the term, reveals its importance even in companies that resist its influence.

Expect ESG to become more important, driven especially by climate change and scrutiny of capitalism’s social impact but also by companies’ efforts to seek competitive advantage and differentiation and investors’ desire to incorporate nonfinancial analysis for better returns.

ESG investing, despite the criticisms, is becoming increasingly popular and is most likely to be an investing approach used by millennials. Morgan Stanley Bank (NYSE: MS) recently conducted a survey that found that nearly 90% of millennial investors were interested in pursuing investments that more closely reflect the values they hold.

By 2018, approximately $12 trillion worth of investment assets were selected using a socially responsible investing strategy. As millennials begin to comprise a larger segment of the total pool of investors, you can expect ESG investing to expand right along with them.

The financial services industry’s responded to the growing demand for ESG investments by making moves such as offering ESG-focused exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Both of the two largest ETF providers – BlackRock and Vanguard – offer clients a choice of ESG-focused funds. BlackRock added six new ESG funds in 2020, and its equity investment team now includes a Head of Sustainable Investing. Brokerage firms now customarily offer stock analysis employing ESG investment strategies, and robo-advisors such as Wealthfront can be set to seek out socially responsible investments.

Although ESG metrics are not currently a required part of financial reports for publicly traded companies, a growing number of companies are proudly including them in their reported statements or a separately issued document. Increasingly there is consensus among many regulators that some form of standardized ESG disclosures will be required of publicly-traded companies on most major global stock exchanges.

Each of the three elements of ESG investing – environmental, social, and corporate governance – comprises a number of criteria that may be considered, either by socially responsible investors or by companies aiming to adopt a more ESG-friendly operational stance.

While many ESG criteria are rather subjective (such as evaluations of “diversity” or “inclusion”), moves are occurring on several fronts that are designed to provide more objective, credible ratings of a company’s performance in terms of ESG policies and actions.

In the past, a company’s standing in terms of ESG has often depended less on substantive practices and more on how good the company’s public relations department is. Businesses such as AccountAbility offer ESG consulting services for companies that want to implement broad ESG-friendly policies and practices.

Environmental criteria include a company’s use of renewable energy sources, its waste management program, how it handles potential problems of air or water pollution arising from its operations, deforestation issues (if applicable), and its attitude and actions around climate change issues.

Other possible environmental issues include raw material sourcing (e.g., does the company use fair trade suppliers and organic ingredients?) and whether a company follows biodiversity practices on land it owns or controls.

Social criteria cover a vast range of potential issues. There are many separate social aspects of ESG, but all of them are essentially about social relationships. One of the key relationships for a company, from the point of view of many socially responsible investors, is its relationship with its employees. Following is a brief rundown of just some of the issues that may be considered when examining how a company handles its social relationships:

  • Is employee pay fair, or perhaps even generous, compared to comparable jobs or similar positions throughout the industry? What type of retirement plans are employees offered? Does the company contribute to the employee retirement plans?
  • In addition to basic wages or salary, what benefits or perks are employees provided with? With ESG-concerned investors, it can make a big difference in the evaluation of your company if, for example, you do things such as providing a free, very lavish buffet lunch for all employees every Friday – or provide other types of benefits that aren’t common at all workplaces, such as an on-site fitness center.
  • Workplace policies regarding diversity, inclusion, and prevention of sexual harassment are also frequently considered.
  • Employee training and education programs; for example, does your company provide financial support for continuing or higher education and/or flexible working hours for employees pursuing further education; what opportunities exist for employees to be trained in new job skills at the company that will qualify them for higher-paying positions?
  • What level of employee engagement with management is there? How much input do employees have in determining operational procedures within their respective departments?
  • The level of employee turnover
  • What’s the company’s mission statement? Is it socially relevant and beneficial to society?
  • How well are customer relationships managed? Does the company engage with customers on social media? How responsive and efficient is the customer service department? Does the company have a negative history of consumer protection issues, such as product recalls?
  • Does the company take a public or political stance on human rights issues? Does it donate money to charitable causes?

Governance, in the context of ESG, is essentially about how a company is managed by those in the top floor executive offices. How well do executive management and the board of directors attend to the interests of the company’s various stakeholders – employees, suppliers, shareholders, and customers? Does the company give back to the community where it is located?

Financial and accounting transparency and full and honest financial reporting are often considered key elements of good corporate governance. Also important are board members acting in a genuine fiduciary relationship with stockholders and being careful to avoid conflicts of interest with that duty. Are the board members and company executives a diverse and inclusive group?

The issue of executive compensation is a primary focus of many ESG investors, who, for example, don’t tend to favor multi-million-dollar bonuses for executives while the company imposes a salary freeze in effect for all other employees. Is extra compensation for executives appropriately tied to increasing the long-term value, viability, and profitability of the business?

An example of how responsible corporate governance is put into practice can be seen in the policies of the company, Intuit (NASDAQ: INTU). One of the company’s corporate policies that is aimed at helping to ensure that company executives take on a strong vested interest in the company’s ongoing success, rather than just in earning some quarterly bonus, is a rule that requires the top-level chief executive officer to maintain stock ownership equivalent in value to ten times their annual salary.

In addition, executive bonuses depend on more than just revenue or income – factors such as employee, shareholder, and customer satisfaction are also part of the calculation.

Forrester (Nasdaq: FORR) is one of the most influential research and advisory firms in the world. We help leaders across technology, marketing, customer

Source: What Is ESG’s Significance To Business Leaders?

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Crude Oil Price Forecast Slam Into the Top of a Triangle

WTI Crude Oil Technical Analysis

The West Texas Intermediate Crude Oil market rallied significantly during the trading session on Friday to reach the $110 level. The downtrend line, of course, comes into the picture and offers a lot of selling pressure. If we can break above the highs of the last couple of weeks, the market is likely to continue going higher, perhaps reaching the $120 level. Alternately, if we could see this market turn around and fall back to the 50 Day EMA.

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It will be interesting to see how this plays out but pay close attention to those highs that we are approaching because that will be key to telling you where we are going in the short term. Longer-term, it almost certainly looks as if oil will at least try to go higher.

Brent Crude Oil Technical Analysis

Brent markets also have slammed into the top of a triangle, showing signs of trying to break out as well. Ultimately, this is a market that I think given enough time will probably pull back into the triangle, but I believe that the 50 Day EMA should come into the picture for support, as well as the uptrend line of the triangle.

At this point, the market continues to show a lot of volatility, and I think that given enough time we will more than likely will find a “buy on the dip” type of situation. The market will continue to pay close attention to these trendlines and make a bigger move once we finally break out. At this point, it certainly looks as if the buyers have much more momentum than anything else.

Oil Price Forecast 2025 to 2050

The EIA predicts that by 2025 Brent crude oil’s nominal price will rise to $66/b. By 2030, world demand is seen driving Brent prices to $89/b. By 2040, prices are projected to be $132/b. By then, the cheap oil sources will have been exhausted, making it more expensive to extract oil. By 2050, oil prices could be $185/b.

WTI per barrel price is expected to rise to $64 per barrel by 2025, increasing to $86 by 2030, $128 by 2040, and $178 by 2050.The EIA assumes that demand for petroleum flattens out as utilities rely more on natural gas and renewable energy. It also assumes the economy grows around 1.9% annually, while energy consumption decreases by 0.4% a year.

The Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Russia is the third-largest producer of liquid fuels and petroleum, so when the country invaded Ukraine in late February 2022, it had immediate impact on Brent crude oil futures prices. As the conflict continued, the prices of crude oil settled in out on an upward trajectory, reaching nearly $130/b in early March, and staying well above $100/b into April.

US Oil Supply

The coronavirus pandemic and natural events are still affecting oil demand and supply. The U.S. experienced a drop in production following Hurricane Ida in September as the storm shut at least nine refineries.

The EIA estimates that U.S. crude oil production will average 12.01 million b/d in 2022 and 12.95 million b/d in 2023.11

Diminished OPEC Output

Oil price increases also reflect supply limitations by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and OPEC partner countries. In 2020, OPEC cut oil production due to decreased demand during the pandemic. It gradually increased oil output through 2021 and into 2022. Supply chain disruptions in late 2021 affected global trade as well.

At its most recent meeting in December 2021, OPEC stated it would continue to gradually adjust oil production upward by 0.4 million barrels per day (mb/d) in January 2022.

Natural Gas

Countries in Asia have relied on coal to generate power, but recent shortages have turned them to natural gas. Higher temperatures in parts of Asia and Europe have led to high demand for natural gas to generate power.

COVID-19 has hampered Europe’s natural gas production, and a colder-than-expected heating season in early 2021 reduced supplies further.

As a result, natural gas prices soared in 2021 and are expected to remain high in 2022, and affected countries have turned to gas-to-oil switching to reduce power generation costs.

Global Inventory Draw

As a reduction in oil production continues globally, countries are forced to draw from their stored reserves (not including the strategic petroleum reserves). This steady draw of oil is contributing to the increase in prices, because inventories are decreasing.

By: Christopher Lewis

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Should You Buy BP Shares? The Oil Giant Looks Cheap, But Approach With Caution

A lot has changed over the past year and a half. Oil demand has spiked and supply is struggling to catch up. The war in Ukraine has only added fuel to the fire, igniting what has to be one of the biggest ever U-turns in global energy policy.

Only a couple of months ago, policymakers were setting out plans to reduce global hydrocarbon production for good, but now they’re rushing to drive up supply. US president Joe Biden has recently reversed his decision to ban drilling for oil and gas on federal land while here in the UK, the government’s flagship energy policy contains new targets for drilling in the North Sea.

It is going to take months if not years for supply to match the world’s seemingly insatiable demand for hydrocarbons. Even major swing producers – namely the Opec cartel – are struggling to ramp up output despite higher production targets.

The supply and demand imbalance has sent prices surging

Global oil and gas markets have responded the only way free markets know how when demand outweighs supply – prices have spiked.

The Brent crude oil benchmark has jumped by 70% in just a few months, returning to levels not seen since 2014. Meanwhile, natural gas prices in the US are up by nearly 200% in the past 12 months (while in the UK and European markets prices have risen by 230% and 340% respectively – gas is not a global market).

In this environment it is not surprising that BP and its Big Oil peers are minting cash. Last year, the firm announced its highest profit in eight years and Factset broker projections are currently estimating a 42% jump in income for 2022. Shell’s (LSE: SHEL) earnings look likely to rise by about a third this year.

However, despite BP’s outstanding fundamentals, the stock’s performance on any timeline longer than 12 months leaves a lot to be desired. The shares have charged higher by 37% on a total return basis over the past year, but over the past decade, they’ve yielded a miserly total return of 3.9% per annum compared to 7.1% for the FTSE All-Share.

Investors should not overlook BP’s progress

BP is not the organisation it was the last time the price of Brent crude was above $100 a barrel. Its return on average capital employed (ROACE) – the company’s preferred measure of operating performance – hit 12.1% in 2021 compared to 9.9% eight years ago.

The company has also moved on from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, reduced its debt and outlined a plan to reduce its exposure to oil and gas by boosting renewable energy output.

Still, at face value, the stock does not seem to reflect the company’s improving trading performance. Shares in BP are selling at a forward price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) of 7.2 while shares in Shell command a valuation of just 6.5.

However, these figures need to be put into perspective. Both companies are generating bumper profits, and there is no guarantee this will last. From a different perspective, BP is trading at a trailing 12-month p/e of 14.1, roughly inline with its five-year average. Shell’s historical valuation is similar.

They’re making money today, but investors shouldn’t forget the fact that these two businesses jointly announced some of the largest losses in British corporate history in 2020 after the price of oil briefly turned negative. And these hefty losses forced both companies to reduce their shareholder payouts, underlining the fragile nature of oil company dividends.

A constant struggle to maintain output and maintain profits

Oil and gas producers face a constant struggle to maintain production. An oil well requires continual investment to maintain production, and sooner or later, the well will run dry. BP and its peers are always looking for new prospects and this costs huge amounts of money.

Last year, BP’s capital spending totalled $13bn and in 2020, the company had to spend $14bn, far more than the earnings generated from selling oil and gas in the first place. These figures illustrate the biggest issue these operators face: the need to keep investing and keep spending even if oil prices collapse.

BP and its peers are also having to invest large sums of money in developing green energy projects. These projects are not going to produce returns immediately, and could prove to be a drag on profits for years to come, only adding to the uncertainty for these enterprises.

As such, while shares in Shell and BP do look cheap at first glance, investors need to carefully consider where these businesses are heading and the challenges they may face going forward.

Windfall oil profits may only be temporary, while capital spending obligations are forever. These businesses might have a central role to play in the global economy, but that does not mean they should have a central role in investors’ portfolios.

Source: Should you buy BP shares? The oil giant looks cheap, but approach with caution | MoneyWeek

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7 Types of Renewable Energy: The Future of Energy

Renewable Energy Types | The future of eco-friendlier energy

What Is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy is energy that has been derived from earth’s natural resources that are not finite or exhaustible, such as wind and sunlight. Renewable energy is an alternative to the traditional energy that relies on fossil fuels, and it tends to be much  less harmful to the environment.

7 Types of Renewable Energy

Solar

Solar energy is derived by capturing radiant energy from sunlight and converting it into heat, electricity, or hot water. Photovoltaic (PV) systems can convert direct sunlight into electricity through the use of solar cells.

Benefits

One of the benefits of solar energy is that sunlight is functionally endless. With the technology to harvest it, there is a limitless supply of solar energy, meaning it could render fossil fuels obsolete. Relying on solar energy rather than fossil fuels also helps us improve public health and environmental conditions. In the long term, solar energy could also eliminate energy costs, and in the short term, reduce your energy bills. Many federal local, state, and federal governments also incentivize the investment in solar energy by providing rebates or tax credits.

Current Limitations

Although solar energy will save you money in the long run, it tends to be a significant upfront cost and is an unrealistic expenses for most households. For personal homes, homeowners also need to have the ample sunlight and space to arrange their solar panels, which limits who can realistically adopt this technology at the individual level.

Wind

Wind farms capture the energy of wind flow by using turbines and converting it into electricity. There are several forms of systems used to convert wind energy and each vary. Commercial grade wind-powered generating systems can power many different organizations, while single-wind turbines are used to help supplement pre-existing energy organizations. Another form is utility-scale wind farms, which are purchased by contract or wholesale. Technically, wind energy is a form of solar energy. The phenomenon we call “wind” is caused by the differences in temperature in the atmosphere combined with the rotation of Earth and the geography of the planet.

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Benefits

Wind energy is a clean energy source, which means that it doesn’t pollute the air like other forms of energy. Wind energy doesn’t produce carbon dioxide, or release any harmful products that can cause environmental degradation or negatively affect human health like smog, acid rain, or other heat-trapping gases.[2] Investment in wind energy technology can also open up new avenues for jobs and job training, as the turbines on farms need to be serviced and maintained to keep running.

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Current Limitations

Since wind farms tend to be built in rural or remote areas, they are usually far from bustling cities where the electricity is needed most. Wind energy must be transported via transition lines, leading to higher costs. Although wind turbines produce very little pollution, some cities oppose them since they dominate skylines and generate noise. Wind turbines also threaten local wildlife like birds, which are sometimes killed by striking the arms of the turbine while flying.

Hydroelectric

Dams are what people most associate when it comes to hydroelectric power. Water flows through the dam’s turbines to produce electricity, known as pumped-storage hydropower. Run-of-river hydropower uses a channel to funnel water through rather than powering it through a dam.

Benefits

Hydroelectric power is very versatile and can be generated using both large scale projects, like the Hoover Dam, and small scale projects like underwater turbines and lower dams on small rivers and streams. Hydroelectric power does not generate pollution, and therefore is a much more environmentally-friendly energy option for our environment.

Current Limitations

Most U.S. hydroelectricity facilities use more energy than they are able to produce for consumption. The storage systems may need to use fossil fuel to pump water.[3]  Although hydroelectric power does not pollute the air, it disrupts waterways and negatively affects the animals that live in them, changing water levels, currents, and migration paths for many fish and other freshwater ecosystems.

Geothermal

Geothermal heat is heat that is trapped beneath the earth’s crust from the formation of the Earth 4.5 billion years ago and from radioactive decay. Sometimes large amounts of this heat escapes naturally, but all at once, resulting in familiar occurrences, such as volcanic eruptions and geysers. This heat can be captured and used to produce geothermal energy by using steam that comes from the heated water pumping below the surface, which then rises to the top and can be used to operate a turbine.

Benefits

Geothermal energy is not as common as other types of renewable energy sources, but it has a significant potential for energy supply. Since it can be built underground, it leaves very little footprint on land. Geothermal energy is naturally replenished and therefore does not run a risk of depleting (on a human timescale).

Current Limitations

Cost plays a major factor when it comes to disadvantages of geothermal energy. Not only is it costly to build the infrastructure, but another major concern is its vulnerability to earthquakes in certain regions of the world.

Ocean

The ocean can produce two types of energy: thermal and mechanical. Ocean thermal energy relies on warm water surface temperatures to generate energy through a variety of different systems. Ocean mechanical energy uses the ebbs and flows of the tides to generate energy, which is created by the earth’s rotation and gravity from the moon.

Benefits

Unlike other forms of renewable energy, wave energy is predictable and it’s easy to estimate the amount of energy that will be produced. Instead of relying on varying factors, such as sun and wind, wave energy is much more consistent. This type of renewable energy is also abundant, the most populated cities tend to be near oceans and harbors, making it easier to harness this energy for the local population. The potential of wave energy is an astounding as yet untapped energy resource with an estimated ability to produce 2640 TWh/yr. Just 1 TWh/yr of energy can power around 93,850 average U.S. homes with power annually, or about twice than the number of homes that currently exist in the U.S. at present.[4]

Current Limitations

Those who live near the ocean definitely benefit from wave energy, but those who live in landlocked states won’t have ready access to this energy. Another disadvantage to ocean energy is that it can disturb the ocean’s many delicate ecosystems. Although it is a very clean source of energy, large machinery needs to be built nearby to help capture this form energy, which can cause disruptions to the ocean floor and the sea life that habitats it. Another factor to consider is weather, when rough weather occurs it changes the consistency of the waves, thus producing lower energy output when compared to normal waves without stormy weather.

Hydrogen

Hydrogen needs to be combined with other elements, such as oxygen to make water as it does not occur naturally as a gas on its own. When hydrogen is separated from another element it can be used for both fuel and electricity.

Benefits

Hydrogen can be used as a clean burning fuel, which leads to less pollution and a cleaner environment. It can also be used for fuel cells which are similar to batteries and can be used for powering an electric motor.

Current Limitations

Since hydrogen needs energy to be produced, it is inefficient when it comes to preventing pollution.

Biomass

Bioenergy is a renewable energy derived from biomass. Biomass is organic matter that comes from recently living plants and organisms. Using wood in your fireplace is an example of biomass that most people are familiar with.

There are various methods used to generate energy through the use of biomass. This can be done by burning biomass, or harnessing methane gas which is produced by the natural decomposition of organic materials in ponds or even landfills.

Benefits

The use of biomass in energy production creates carbon dioxide that is put into the air, but the regeneration of plants consumes the same amount of carbon dioxide, which is said to create a balanced atmosphere. Biomass can be used in a number of different ways in our daily lives, not only for personal use, but businesses as well. In 2017, energy from biomass made up about 5% of the total energy used in the U.S. This energy came from wood, biofuels like ethanol, and  energy generated from methane captured from landfills or by burning municipal waste. (5)

Current Limitations

Although new plants need carbon dioxide to grow, plants take time to grow. We also don’t yet have widespread technology that can use biomass in lieu of fossil fuels.

source

Renewable Energy: What Can You Do?

As a consumer you have several opportunities to make an impact on improving the environment through the choice of a greener energy solution. If you’re a homeowner, you have the option of installing solar panels in your home. Solar panels not only reduce your energy costs, but help improve your standard of living with a safer, more eco-friendlier energy choice that doesn’t depend on resources that harm the environment. There are also alternatives for a greener way of life offered by your electric companies. Just Energy allows consumers to choose green energy options that help you reduce your footprint with energy offsets. Add JustGreen to your electricity or natural gas plan to lower your impact today!

By

Electricity, Energy Resources, Renewable Energy

Source: http://www.justenergy.com

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Sources:

  1. Energy.gov, Advantages and Challenges of Wind Energy, Retrieved from: https://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/advantages-and-challenges-wind-energy
  2. Energy.gov, Advantages and Challenges of Wind Energy, Retrieved from: https://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/advantages-and-challenges-wind-energy
  3. U.S. Energy Information Administration, What is U.S. Electricity Generation by Energy Source?, Retrieved From: https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3 
  4. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Ocean Wave Energy, Retrieved From: https://www.boem.gov/Ocean-Wave-Energy/
  5. U.S. Energy Information Administration, Biomass Explained, Retrieved From: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/?page=biomass_home

 

 

Exploring Nanotechnology & The Future of Renewable Energy

Imagine a future where every home, office or building is painted with solar panels and its bricks operate as batteries thanks to nanotechnology. There’s a lot of promise, but what is nanotechnology? And is it more science fiction than fact?

When you hear the term nanotech, chances are some sci-fi book or movie pops into your head, where they used the term to explain away some technological wonder or advancement. “Don’t worry about that, it’s nanotech!” It’s become a deus ex machina for science fiction writers.

But what we’re starting to see is that nanotechnology is responsible for great advances in physics, biology, chemistry, engineering and material science. It’s responsible for the new age of modern technology that will help civilization reach for the stars and more.

Nanotechnology refers to our ability to study and engineer technologies at a nanoscale, which is the range from 1 to 100 nanometers. That begs the question, “how small is a nanometer?” Well, if I tell you “A nanometer is one billionth of a meter … or one millionth of a millimeter” I don’t think that really clears things up. I don’t know about you, but my brain breaks trying to think about that scale. So, let’s try to put it in perspective: a human hair is around 75,000 nanometers wide – and remember, the range for nanoscale is 1 to 100 nanometers. Still not doing it for you? Let’s flip it around. Imagine a marble measures 1 nanometer. In comparison to that, the Earth would measure about one meter in diameter.1 Let that sink in for a minute… a marble compared to the size of our entire planet … that’s 1 nanometer compared to 1 meter.

Given how mind-boggling these scales are, we definitely have to give credit to the father of nanotechnology, Physicist Richard Feynman. It all started with the American Physical Society meeting held at the California Institute of Technology on December 29, 1959. Feynman gave a talk titled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” where he speculated about being able to construct machines down to the molecular level — and the concept behind nanotechnology was born. It wasn’t until 1974 that the term “nanotechnology” was coined by Professor Norio Taniguchi, while he worked on ultraprecision machining.

As he put it: “nanotechnology mainly consists of the processing of separation, consolidation, and deformation of materials by one atom or one molecule.” We had the concept, then the term, but it wasn’t until 1981 that this theory became a reality with the development of a scanning tunneling microscope that helped scientist actually see atoms individually. Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer developed the microscope at IBM Zurich Research Laboratories in Switzerland and were later awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1986. That major achievement was followed by the Atomic Force Microscope in 1985, which had the distinct advantage of imaging on almost all surfaces, including biological samples, glass, composites, and ceramics. This would prove to be a major turning point.

With the advent of nanotechnology, scientists were now able to manipulate individual atoms. And that takes us into the realm of quantum mechanics, which is the science behind how matter behaves in atomic and subatomic scale. Thankfully, that’s out of scope for this video since that breaks my brain even more, but basically materials at this scale tend to behave differently and exhibit distinctive chemical and physical properties. Scientists were keen to learn and exploit this attribute to craft materials at nanoscale.

Since 1981, we’ve come forward leaps and bounds in the field of Nanotech. There’s so much that I could cover, but in the interest of time, I’ve picked two categories of examples that are helping to make what seemed like science fiction into science fact for our future. But I’d love to hear in the comments if there are any topics or examples you’d like to see covered in a future video.

Solar

The first category is one that I talk about a lot: solar. Nanotechnology is leading the charge for solar energy. Most silicon based solar panels, which accounts for about 95% of commercial solar, utilize nanoscale processes for manufacturing. Some are multi-junction solar cells, which layer different solar technologies to broaden the wavelengths of light that are captured and converted into energy. This layer cake of solar cell technologies are measured in nanometers. Thinner than a width of a human hair. But it’s the next generation of solar cells that are being researched now that could takes things to a whole new level.

Solar-Collecting Paint is an exciting future possibility.

Imagine the paint on your house or a building acting as a solar panel? Or how about your car? Chemistry professor Richard L. Brutchey from University of Southern California and researcher David H. Webber successfully developed solar collecting paint by using solar-collecting nanocrystals. At only 4 nanometers in size, nanocrystals can float in a liquid solution. You could potentially fit 250 billion nanocrystals on the head of a pin, they’re THAT small. Brutchey and Webber were able to find an organic molecule that would keep the nanocrystals conductive without sticking to each other.

So why isn’t this available in the market yet? Well those nanocrystals were built with cadmium, which is a toxic metal. Researchers have been busy trying to find alternative materials and there are some really promising leads.

Quantum dot solar cells

Quantum dot solar cells are one area to look at. Quantum dots are semiconducting particles that behave differently due to their size and the effects of quantum mechanics, like I mentioned earlier. They have energy similarities to atoms, which is why they’re sometimes referred to as “artificial atoms.” In June 2020 researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory were able to create cadmium-free Quantum Dot solar cells. Their zinc-doped variant has a high defect tolerance and is toxic-element-free.

This year researchers at the University of Queensland were even able to break a new world efficiency record of 16.6% for a quantum dot solar cell made from a halide Perovskite. That’s a 25% improvement in relative efficiency compared to the last record holder from 2017, so there’s fast progress being made. But the big challenge is around commercialization of the breakthrough, so the university is working on a large scale printing process in addition to continuing to improve the efficiency.

Perovskite solar paint

In 2014, researchers at the University of Sheffield were able to develop a spray on solar cell using Perovskite which is a class of man-made compounds that share the same crystalline structure as the calcium titanium oxide mineral with the same name.2,3 It happens to be one of the most promising solar technologies in recent years because it has a broad absorption spectrum. It consists of a 300 nanometer thin film with a crystal structure that aids solar absorption and can operate efficiently during cloudy days as well. Scientific Director at Saule Technologies, Dr. Konrad Wojciechowski, says that this could be printed using an inkjet printer.4

Swedish firm Skanska tested it on a building in 2019 and is expected to start producing it in 2021 with the expected cost to be $58 per meter and an efficiency around 10%.

The reason why all of these examples are so exciting is that a paintable solar cell opens up the floodgates for where you can apply solar power. Painting the walls of a building, not just the roof, or as I mentioned earlier, your car. It should also help to reduce the costs of manufacturing solar technologies, which will make it more accessible. It’s potentially a huge win/win.

Energy Storage

The second category I wanted to look at for this video is nanotechnology being applied to energy storage. In a previous video I’ve walked through graphene and carbon nanotubes and how they’re impacting energy storage today. Specifically, in my supercapacitor video I talked about how companies like NAWA Technologies and Skeleton are building out graphene-based supercapacitors today. Skeleton’s products can be found helping to power major tram-systems in big European hubs like Warsaw and Mannheim.5

As a quick refresher, batteries and supercapacitors share some similarities in how they work. In a battery there’s a positive and negative side, which are called the cathode and anode. Those two sides are submerged in a liquid electrolyte and are separated by a micro perforated separator, which only allows ions to pass through. When the battery charges and discharges, the ions flow back and forth between the cathode and anode. But capacitors are different, they don’t rely on chemical play in order to function. Instead, they store potential energy electrostatically. Capacitors use a dielectric, or insulator, between their plates to separate the collection of positive and negative charges building on each plate. It’s this separation that allows the device to store energy and quickly release it6. It’s basically capturing static electricity.

In one recent advancement in batteries from July 2020, scientists from Clemson Nanomaterials Institute were able to achieve high rate capability, fast diffusion, high capacity, and a long cycle life thanks to sandwiching silicone nanoparticles with carbon nanotubes called bucky papers.7 The cycle life for lithium batteries with silicon based anodes is less than 100, but thanks to the new sandwiched silicon electrode structure they were able achieve 500 cycles and deliver three times more capacity than graphite. Silicone happens to have ten times higher capacity than graphite, but it expands by about 300 percent in volume as it absorbs ions. The end result is an anode that breaks apart. This nanostructure counters this factor and would help us replace graphite with silicone, so that our batteries can become safer and lighter.

But I’ve saved the craziest research I’ve seen in a while for last… Nanotechnology could potentially turn bricks into batteries. …well, more like supercapacitors, but that doesn’t have the same alliteration. Washington University’s Institute of Materials Science & Engineering took work from their microsupercapacitor research using Fe2O3 (iron oxide – or rust) as a conducting polymer, also known as rust-assisted vapor-phase polymerization. Rolls right off the tongue. I’m not going to get bogged down into the technical details, partially because of my broken brain, but what sets this process apart is that the nanostructures formed by this process are self-assembled. Other processes like this might take several steps and treatments, which makes this process unique.

So I can hear you asking how does this possibility relate to bricks? That red pigment in your classic brick is … you probably guessed it … Fe2O3 (iron oxide – or rust). By applying their polymer process to a standard red brick, you end up with a capacitor.8 Julio D’Arcy, assistant professor of chemistry, who worked on this research, described it:

“In this work, we have developed a coating of the conducting polymer PEDOT, which is comprised of nanofibers that penetrate the inner porous network of a brick; a polymer coating remains trapped in a brick and serves as an ion sponge that stores and conducts electricity.” -Julio D’Arcy, Assistant Professor9

This process leaves a blue PEDOT coating on one side of the brick, so that could be easily hidden on one side of the brick wall. They estimate that it would take about 50 bricks to power an emergency lighting system for 5 hours, so this clearly isn’t going to power your entire house. But then again, a building is made up of thousands of bricks, so there’s a potential for a building’s brick walls to act as a massive supercapacitor to absorb solar panel overproduction, or to cover peak energy use to smooth out demand, and pair with battery storage in a hybrid setup.

We’re already seeing some of nanotechnologies benefits in the world around us today, but the research and advancements we’re seeing in the lab, like these, are what to look forward to for the future. Nanotech may have been an overused and blanket term that’s lost a little bit of it’s meaning to most of us, but there’s real progress being made.


  1. Nano.gov, “Size of the Nanoscale” ↩︎
  2. Energysage, “Perovskite solar cells: the future of solar?” ↩︎
  3. Wikipedia, “Perovskite solar cell” ↩︎
  4. Energy & Environmental Science, “Towards the commercialization of colloidal quantum dot solar cells: perspectives on device structures and manufacturing” ↩︎
  5. Railway Technology, “Skeleton Technologies to provide ultracapacitor for Warsaw tram system” ↩︎
  6. Green Techee, “How does an ultracap work?” ↩︎
  7. New Atlas, “Silicon ‘sandwiches’ make for lightweight, high-capacity batteries” ↩︎
  8. Nature Communications, 11, “Energy storing bricks for stationary PEDOT supercapacitors” ↩︎
  9. Washington University in St. Louis – The Source, “Storing energy in red bricks” ↩︎

By: https://undecidedmf.com

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Undecided with Matt Ferrell

Exploring Nanotechnology and the Future of Renewable Energy. Imagine a future where every home, office or building is painted with solar panels and its bricks operate as batteries thanks to nanotechnology. There’s a lot of promise, but what is nanotechnology? And is it more science fiction than fact? ▻ Watch Exploring solar panel efficiency breakthroughs – https://youtu.be/2uIOeHCOr-0 ▻ Vice Versa with Matt & Ricky – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbaG… ▻ Follow-up podcast episode: coming soon – http://bit.ly/stilltbdfm ▻ Full script and citations: https://undecidedmf.com/episodes/2020… ——————– ▶ ▶ ▶ ADDITIONAL INFO ◀ ◀ ◀ ▻ Support us on Patreon! https://www.patreon.com/mattferrell ▻ Check out my podcast – Still To Be Determined: http://bit.ly/stilltbdfm ▻ Tesla and smart home gear I really like: https://kit.co/undecidedmf ▻ Undecided Amazon store front: http://bit.ly/UndecidedAmazon ▻ Fun, nerdy t-shirts All shirts sold help to support the channel http://bit.ly/UndecidedShirts ▻ Great Tesla Accessories From Abstract Ocean – 15% Discount – Code: “Undecided” http://bit.ly/UndecidedAO ▻ Jeda Wireless phone charger: http://bit.ly/UndecidedJeda ▻ Get 1,000 miles of free supercharging with a new Tesla or a discount on Tesla Solar/Powerwalls: https://ts.la/matthew84515 PLEASE NOTE: For the Abstract Ocean discount you may have to click on the “cart” button, then “view bag” to enter the coupon code manually. Be sure to enter “undecided” there if you don’t see the discount automatically applied. All Amazon links are part of their affiliate program. Thanks so much for your support! ——————– ▶ ▶ ▶ GET IN TOUCH ◀ ◀ ◀ ▻ Twitter https://twitter.com/mattferrell ▻ Instagram https://www.instagram.com/mattferrell/ ▻ Facebook https://www.facebook.com/undecidedMF/ ▻ Website https://undecidedmf.com ——————– ▻ Audio file(s) provided by Epidemic Sound http://bit.ly/UndecidedEpidemic#nanotechnology#renewableenergy#solarpanels#exploring#undecidedwithmattferrell

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