Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Future of Nanotechnology

What is Nanotechnology?

Array of vertically aligned carbon nanotubes

Nanotechnology is a broad term that covers many areas of science, research and technology. In its most basic form, it can be described as working with things that are small. Things so tiny that they can't be seen with standard microscopes. The same stuff that has always been there, but we just couldn't see it. The building blocks of nature, atoms and molecules. Nano-technology involves understanding matter at the "nano" scale.

A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. In comparison, a human hair is about 100,000 nanometers in diameter.

The Size of Things

New types of imaging tools, like the atomic force microscope, have allowed scientists to peek into the nano world. A world that before could only be visualized in theory. These tools help scientists validate theories about the way that atoms group together to form molecules of different types and shapes.

"Consider the element carbon at the nanoscale. In nature, when carbon atoms are arranged one way you get a diamond. If they're put together another way, you get graphite." - Eleanor Imster, Earth and Sky Radio Series

The discovery in 1985 of buckminsterfullerene (buckyball), opened a new era for the chemistry of carbon and for novel materials. The Japanese Sumi Ijima discovered nanotubes in 1991.

The transition of nanotechnology research into manufactured products is limited today, but some products moved relatively quickly to the marketplace and already are having significant impact.

The “jumbotron lamp,” that lights many of today's athletic stadiums is a nanotube-based light source. Additional products available today that benefit from the unique properties of nanoscale materials include: bumpers on cars, sunscreens and cosmetics, stain-free clothing and more.

New applications of nanotechnology that are expected in two to five years are:

• Implantable devices that automatically administer drugs and sense drug levels.

• Cancer tagging mechanisms and
real time diagnostics for physicians.

• Sensors for airborne chemicals or other toxins.

• Improved solar cells and fuel cells

• Faster, smarter and inexpensive computers.

The power of nanotechnology is in the manipulation of materials at the nanoscale. This enables scientists to alter the properties of materials to make them do new things and to invent materials not found in nature.


The AVT transports cars and their passengers in private quiet train compartments that have air conditioning, restrooms and entertainment centers. The AVT is designed to be simple to use and enjoyable to ride. You simply drive into a station, park your car, select your destination, and you and your car are automatically loaded onto a train and transported to your destination. On arrival you simply start your car and drive away.

This is how it works.

There are elevated guideways on each side of the highway on which the AVT Trains run continuously - every 8 seconds during rush hour. Cars with their passengers are loaded onto passing trains by shuttles while the trains are moving. Each guideway will transport over 10,000 cars per hour because the trains do not stop at stations.

Shuttles pick up parked cars from Departure Stations, catch up with a passing train, dock with the train and transfer the car with their passengers onto the train. Shuttles also transfer cars from moving trains and park them in Arrival Stations. Shuttles travel on a separate guideway loop that services Departure and Arrival Stations on both sides of the highway.

There is a similar shuttle system in operation today that loops over the I-15 in Primm Nevada. It connects casinos on the east and west side of the highway with automatic people movers instead of AVT Shuttles.


You drive your car on a motorway. A lane leads you to the entrance station of the new means of transportation AUTOSHUTTLE. You enter a transparent cabin available only for you and turn off the engine.

After ca. 1 minute the cabin starts and brings you at constantly 180 km/h (112 mph) to your individually desired motorway exit. You pay the fare during the trip with a credit card. You may change the desired destination whenever you want.

If you request: "take next exit", you will stop there after ca. 3 minutes at the next AUTOSHUTTLE exit station and leave the cabin through the opened front door. The fare is cheaper than the operational costs of driving the car, i. e. cheaper than fuel, wear and tear.

You may use AUTOSHUTTLE in a public luxury bus as well, e. g. 350 km (220 m) from New York to Washington D. C. in two and a half hours for $13 (13 Euro, 8 Pounds). A heavy lorry will be transported at 180 km/h (112 mph) and cheaper than its operational costs as well.


A major failing of public urban transportation today is its
inability to provide adequate and attractive collection and
distribution services in lower density areas of a metropolis. In
some parts of urban areas and in many small cities and towns,
the travel demand is too small to support any transit service at
all. It is simply economically infeasible to route and schedule
present transit vehicles efficiently when only a few people want
to go to and from the same places during a short period of time.
Rail systems are too expensive and are technologically unsuited
for low volumes of demand. Ordinary buses cannot maintain
sufficiently frequent service in outlying areas to attract any but
those who have no alternative. What is needed is a public
transit system which can respond dynamically to the needs of
these areas, that is, a system whose routes and schedules are
both flexible and ubiquitous.

tt2.jpg (28548 bytes)The Dial-a-Bus, which is a hybrid between an ordinary
bus and a taxi, could be the basis for such flexibility. It
would pick up passengers at their doors or at a nearby bus stop
shortly after they have telephoned for service. The computer would
know the location of its vehicles, how many passengers were on
them, and where they were heading. It would select the right vehicle
and dispatch it to the caller according to some optimal routing program
which had been devised for the system. Thus, the system could
readily link many origins to many destinations.

tt1.jpg (34228 bytes)
A Dial-a-Bus, with it's position established by automatic vehicle
monitoring, can be routed by computer and a communication link
to collect passengers who have called for service.

The diffused pattern of trip origins and destinations which
this system would serve is most dominant in low density suburbs.
But it also exists in a different form in the most thickly populated
urban areas.

tt3.jpg (40499 bytes)The cost of taxi rides can be driven down by sharing
rides, and basically the Dial-a-Bus system is designed to
accomplish this. Data from the new systems study suggest that,
depending on demand, door-to-door transit can serve its
passengers almost as fast as a private taxi but at one-quarter
to one-half the price, indeed, at only slightly more than the fare
for a conventional bus.
With its operational flexibility, the Dial-a-Bus system could
be programmed to give different levels of service for different
fares. At one extreme it might offer unscheduled single pas-
senger door-to-door service, like a taxi, or multi-passenger serv-
ice, like a jitney. At the other extreme it might operate like a
bus service, picking up passengers along specified routes which
could include several home pick-ups. The system might also be
programmed to rendezvous with an express or line-haul carrier,
and in serving as either a collector or distributor, provide the
opportunity to improve the complete transportation service.

The major point is that the Dial-a-Bus might do what no
other transit system now does: Handle door-to-door travel
demand at the time of the demand. This means that the system
would attract more off-peak business than does conventional
transit. And if it does attract enough passengers, the off-peak
revenue would help Dial-a-Bus avoid the same financial prob-
lems of conventional transit, which is used heavily only 3 or 4
hours per day. It could also help reduce dependence upon

Technically, there is little question that the system will work.
Any number of existing vehicles can comfortably carry 12 to
24 passengers. Some of the best are now offering service to
airports. Present computers, radio communications, and telephone
links are fully adequate to the major needs of Dial-a-Bus.

Mathematical routing and the associated computer programming
present no real obstacles. What must be done is to put these
isolated elements together into a unified system. Dial-a-Bus
service could be made somewhat more efficient if the buses
were equipped with automatic monitors to report each vehicle's
location, to the dispatchers at frequent intervals. Although these
monitors do not now exist, there is no technological barrier to
developing them, as discussed above under the automatic ve-
hicle monitoring subsystem.

The cost for a given level of Dial-a-Bus service is a function
of many variables. These include the nature of the street system,
the cruising speed of the vehicle, the distribution of demand,
and the size of the area served. Perhaps the most uncertain of
these variables is demand density, the number of trips generated
per square mile per hour. Dial-a-Bus systems probably will be
most efficient at demand densities of 100 trips per square mile
per hour—a level that is barely practicable for conventional
bus service.

A limited demonstration of the Dial-a-Bus concept, using
existing equipment, could almost certainly be achieved within
3 years at a cost of less than $1 million. A definitive full-scale
demonstration of Dial-a-Bus service, using vehicles and control
equipment specifically designed for this purpose to test the full
range of possible benefits, probably could be completed within
7 years at a cost of less than $20 million.

Flying car

A flying car or roadable aircraft is an automobile that can legally travel on roads and can take off, fly, and land as an aircraft. In practice, the vehicle usually has to be converted from a standard aeroplane to an aeroplane with sufficient roadworthiness.

In science fiction, the vision of a flying car is usually a practical aircraft that the average person can fly directly from any point to another (e.g. from home to work or to the supermarket) without the requirement for roads, runways or other special prepared operating areas, and they often start and land in a garage or on a parking lot. In addition, the science-fiction version of the flying car typically resembles a conventional car with no visible means of propulsion, rather than an aeroplane. For more information on the

Future Train

IMAGINE A MACHINE OF THE FUTURE that moves goods by the ton--by tens of thousands of tons--along specialized transportation corridors. Guided by computers, tracked by GPS and driven by powerful new engines, this revolutionary, high-tech vehicle slashes America's energy consumption and leaves the air cleaner than any mechanized transport before it. At a time when highways are clogged and fuel reserves are strained, it represents a miracle technology that arrives not a moment too soon. It's been under development for more than 200 years, yet it is the transportation of the future. Meet the freight train, reborn.

Railroading helped define development in the United States, but by the 1970s it seemed doomed to gradual decay and obsolescence. Today, it is a growth industry. "Railroads have led in innovation to a degree that people don't realize," says Gary Wolf, owner of Rail Sciences, a leading accident investigation firm. Railroads have helped pioneer computerized freight management, and have pushed the envelope on power, efficiency and mechanical ingenuity to move their cargo ever faster and more cheaply. Roughly 42 percent of all U.S. freight moves by train, some 5 billion ton-miles per day on 140,000 miles of track. Volume records have been set each of the past three years--partly because it takes about a third as much fuel to move a ton of freight by rail as by truck. The innovations being introduced in the next few years will overshadow those of the past, with some of the biggest changes coming in energy efficiency. That's an arena where railroads already trounce the competition--and where the nation is in serious need of problem-solving.

FUEL EFFICIENCY COMES TOGETHER noisily under the roof of the 3.8-million-sq.-ft. General Electric factory in Erie, Pa., which is crawling with hundreds of electricians, welders, pipe fitters and helmeted supervisors toting clipboards. Pneumatic tools hiss and clatter as a crane arm lifts a massive locomotive assembly up and turns it over--manipulating 400,000 pounds of steel as if it were hollow tin. Once a crew has installed sensitive electronics on the undercarriage, the crane will deposit the 75-ft.-long, 16-ft.-high hulk of steel back onto the factory floor and the Evolution locomotive will have largely taken shape.

The Evolution is a smarter, faster locomotive, designed to meet EPA emissions requirements that came into effect in 2005. It features a new control system, a new 12-cylinder diesel engine (producing as much power as its predecessor's 16-cylinder powerplant) and a first-of-its-kind air-to-air cooling system that helps the engine burn more cleanly. It will consume at least 200,000 fewer gallons of fuel in its lifetime than previous goliaths of the rails.

While the Evolution is being built, engineers at GE are already working furiously on a prototype for a still more efficient locomotive, a high-horsepower hybrid that captures energy given off by its brakes, just like a hybrid car. In one sense, virtually all American freight locomotives are hybrids: Their diesel engines turn alternators that feed current to electric motors. Additionally, locomotives supplement their airbrakes with dynamic braking, which helps slow a train by converting the motion of its wheels into electric current. Normally, this electricity goes to waste. However, the hybrid locomotive will store and reuse the energy--once engineers figure out how to harness a flow of electricity that dwarfs anything normal batteries can handle. The battery array has to store about 1500 kilowatt-hours, enough to run 50 American households for a day.

Once it works, though, the process should pony up about 2000 hp. Engineers expect the technology to cut fuel usage and emissions 15 percent below the Evolution's level. "If you replace all locos in North America with our hybrid, you will save half a billion dollars per year just in fuel," says the hybrid's project manager, Gagan Sood.

The planned locomotive won't be the first hybrid model. In 2002, Canada's RailPower Industries introduced the Green Goat, a low-horsepower machine, for use in switching cars at railyards. That's hurry-up-and-wait work that involves hours spent idling and, for most locomotives, belching clouds of nitrogen-oxide-laden exhaust that dirties the air and promotes acid rain. The Green Goat draws 85 percent of its energy from a 1200-ampere-hour battery made up of 336 2-volt cells; the locomotive produces just 10 to 20 percent of the NOx emissions of its pure diesel counterparts. It's already in wide use in the United States.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
FREIGHT LINER A GPS-linked unit high in the cab helps direct a 95-mph train near Kalamazoo, Mich.

Welcome to the transport of tomorrow

First mooted over a century ago, personal rapid transit systems might soon be running through our cities

Personal Rapid Transport from Advanced Transport SystemsPersonal Rapid Transport from Advanced Transport Systems

When Heathrow Terminal 5 opens next year, a network of up to 18 driverless pods will ferry people between the main terminal and its car parks, where each pod will be controlled by an internal computer and onboard sensor systems.

Welcome to the pioneering world of personal rapid transport (PRT) - a feasible technological solution to the chronic problem of traffic congestion, offering public transport with the privacy of a car.

Basically, a driverless four-seater vehicle (call it a podcar if you like) that automatically runs on a guideway over a dedicated network, lighter than light rail and running on a fraction of its energy, PRT has been the ambition of a select group of engineers since the late 1950s. But only now are the first networks being constructed.

Heathrow's network is admittedly modest: just 3.5km (2.2 miles) of guideway will connect car park and terminal. But it is the first public test of its kind. BAA has indicated that if the pilot is successful, it will extend PRT throughout the airport.

PRT is not just a very short bus or train. For starters, there is no timetable. Instead, visitors to a PRT network should find pods waiting for them, making it more like a taxi rank than a bus stop. According to Advanced Transport Systems (, the Bristol-based company behind Ultra, the maximum waiting time at a terminal will be just 12 seconds. The second difference is that there are no stops: the pod will not pick up further passengers along the way, and there are no traffic lights to contend with. Finally, the pod is as private as a taxi, so you are always guaranteed a seat, even in peak hours.

Once inside the pod you pick your destination and travel at about 20mph. On alighting, the pod waits for the next fare or is automatically rerouted to where there is most demand. As Russell Goodway, the former lord mayor of Cardiff once put it, PRT is "public transport that is waiting for you, rather than you waiting for it".

Environmentally driven

PRT was conceived in the 19th century, but it was the American Donn Fichter who began seriously pushing the idea with his book, Individualized Automated Transit and the City, in 1964 - although he says the idea was based on work going back to 1953 (see below). The UK planned extensive PRT networks for Birmingham and central London until 1971. Equivalent projects in France, Germany, Sweden, Japan and the US began in earnest before being commercially derailed.

Now, environmental concerns are driving a revival of interest. According to Advanced Passenger Systems, each vehicle uses just a quarter of the energy per passenger mile of a car. Some proponents predict PRT could be run on renewable energy, such as solar. But even with conventional electricity, Ultra remains attractive because its exhaust emissions are effectively zero.

Soon, work on the guideway begins at Heathrow, with the first paying passengers expected in a little over a year. Last month the company took possession of its first production vehicle, and its inventor Martin Lowson, a former rocket scientist who worked on the Apollo space programme, is excited that a project he undertook in the mid-90s is finally reaching fruition. "The trouble with our cities," he says, "is that they have been designed around the car for the last 50 years or so."

PRT is good for a closed network such as an airport, but there are indications that it could soon wend its way into our towns and cities. Several local authorities are looking closely at PRT, and the one furthest down the line is Daventry in Northamptonshire. Its population of 23,000 is set to expand to more than 40,000 by 2021 as part of the government's strategy to build lots of new houses within striking distance of London.

"Currently less than 3% of trips made within the town are by public transport," says Simon Bowers, an officer at Daventry Council. "Our studies have shown that to get people on the buses, we'd have to put on so many extra ones that we'd miss our sustainability targets."

Several Gulf states are thought to be developing PRT systems, as are the French. But the Dutch have hit an unexpectedly bumpy ride. Earlier this year, 2getthere (, which was developing a driverless shuttle bus in Rotterdam, filed for bankruptcy.

Network problem

Even so, the obvious problem with PRT is not the development of the vehicles, but the building of large networks of guideways. At between £3m-£5m per mile, the network is expensive, although that compares favourably with light rail.

In terms of capacity, PRT is expected to be at least as efficient as a stretch of motorway, but less efficient than a mainline railway. Lowson says the solution in city centres is to build overhead. But for the near future at least, PRT is likely to be developed as a complimentary transport, ferrying people around airports or large campuses.

After the UK, the most developed market for PRT is in Sweden. Two rival systems are competing to build networks in Swedish cities. Posco, a Korean company, is developing a system in Uppsala, while the Stockholm-based Skycab ( is planning three, including Arlanda airport, a university campus in Stockholm and the small town of Hofors.

Ake Aredal, Skycab's founder, thinks this generation of PRT is much more likely to succeed. "Previously, PRT systems were led by engineers," he says, "whereas this time we are letting the market drive it. We have to build a system that people actually want. One that's convenient and safe and fits in around their life."

The big test, then, is not technological. Several PRT systems have already proved to be technically competent. The challenge is getting people to accept such a futuristic mode of transport and making them actually use it. Only then will the age of the podcar have finally arrived.

Personal Rapid Transport: the story so far

1953: Donn Fichter, a New York city transportation planner, begins research on personal rapid transport (PRT).

1967: Len Blake at the British Electrical Company begins developing Cabtrack, which planned a network of overhead guideways for Birmingham and central London. The project is shelved in 1972 due to cost and visual intrusion.

1967: Aerospace giant Matra initiates the Aramis Project in Paris. Development of the project runs for 20 years at a cost of 500m francs, but it fails qualification trials and is cancelled.

1970: Japan begins testing Computer-controlled Vehicle System (CVS), operating 84 vehicles at speeds up to 60kph. Public tests carry 800,000 passengers until government cancels the project under rail safety regulations.

1975: The Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit project is completed in West Virginia, connecting the city's five university campuses. Purists argue that it is light rail, not PRT, as it is too heavy and each pod carries too many people. Still in operation, it carries an average of 15,000 passengers a day.

2003: The prototype ULTra (Urban Light Transport) system from Advanced Transport Systems is certified to carry passengers by the UK Railway Inspectorate.

2005: ULTra selected by BAA for Heathrow Terminal 5. Planned to transport 11,000 passengers per day from remote parking lots to the central terminal area. BAA plans to begin operation by the summer of 2008 and to expand the system in 2009.

· This article was amended on Wednesday October 17 2007. We reported that a Stockholm-based company is planning to build three transit systems including one in the small town of Horfors. That should have been Hofors. This has been corrected.

Our Hydrogen Future Still Distant

New Power
New Power

Nov. 19, 2007 -- The United States hopes to fill American roads with hydrogen-powered cars in two decades, but the clean fuel must be cheap and practical to make before it can replace oil, U.S. experts say.

President George W. Bush unveiled a 1.2-billion-dollar initiative in 2003 to reverse U.S. dependence on foreign oil and make hydrogen, which emits zero pollution, the fuel that drives the U.S. economy.

"That was ambitious," said Timothy Wilkins, an attorney of the firm Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, based in Texas, who specializes in environmental and energy regulation.

"I think in a century hydrogen could fill a role like that, but not in 20 years," Wilkins said, adding that the Bush administration was no longer as vocal about the plan as it used to be.

"To produce it like the gasoline scale, to get it in the vehicle fleet, fully integrated in the vehicle fleet and the infrastructure the fueling, will take one century," he said.

While hydrogen has more energy power than oil, methanol and natural gas, its lightness makes it very difficult to stock and transport.

Universities, oil companies and automakers, as well as the U.S. Energy Department, are investing in research to find better ways to produce hydrogen, most of which today is generated from non-renewable fossil fuels such as natural gas.

Pennsylvania State University researchers recently developed a method of producing hydrogen gas by combining electron-generating bacteria and a small electrical charge in a microbial fuel cell.

"In an extreme scenario, hydrogen has the capabilities technically to become a universal source of energyĆ¢€¦but the big deal is economics," Jerry Hinkle, the president of the National Hydrogen Association.

Hydrogen can be produced from a wide range of sources including natural gas, coal, water, wind, nuclear power and biological methods, Hinkle said.

The hydrogen fuel cell technology show the most promise in the short term, he said, adding that U.S. auto giant General Motors predicts the production of competitive and high-performance fuel cell cars in 2010-2012.

In the meantime, automakers are launching hydrogen-powered prototypes.

Honda announced Wednesday that it would offer a hydrogen-powered car in the United States next year, the zero-emissions FCX Clarity, to customers on a limited long-term lease basis for a cost of around 600 dollars a month.

"The FCX Clarity is a shining symbol of the progress we've made with fuel cell vehicles and of our belief in the promise of this technology," said American Honda chief executive Tetsuo Iwamura.

"We are working to overcome obstacles to the mass-market potential of zero emissions hydrogen fuel cell automobiles," Iwamura said at the LA Auto Show.

BMW has also developped a 7 Series model that can run either on hydrogen or gasoline.

If half of cars circulating in the United States run with hydrogen fuel by 2050, oil imports would drop by two-thirds, reducing the emission of harmful greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.