When we’re looking into energy and fuels we tend to overlook the size of the products at work. Most of the press attention and technology news tends to be huge numbers like millions of barrels, billions of mega joules, trillions of quads and so forth. The endless parade with such numbers gets a little numbing sometimes and the effect is tuning many people out. That makes it important to get a sense of the products at the size where they are working.

Solar energy is coming in photons and radiation. Photons are very small and the radiation that we can see is small too. The human eye receives radiation of the visible spectrum and reacts with nerve impulses from the red to blue that trigger the cells at the eye’s retina to signal the brain. This works because the radiation wavelengths and the cell sizes are keyed to each other. Shorter and longer lengths are past the size of the eye’s receptors to elicit a response.

The next longer lengths are infrared. You can almost see them in the cherry or red glowing items that are hot enough to emit red light. We all teach kids that just because something is not glowing doesn’t mean it’s not hot. Infrared is a spectrum like visible light and covers a noteworthy range from the hot things we see glowing to the longer lengths that can be very hot but just as cold looking as ice.

The fuel molecules when separated down to individuals pieces are small too. The best results for efficiency is when fuels are as individualized as possible in the chemical reactions. The more evenly fuel molecules are mixed with oxygen molecules the more efficiently they ignite and produce heat. When clumps are presented and ignite the process leaves both un ignited fuel and oxygen in the exhaust stream. The smaller the better is the key at ignition.

Fission and fusion both take place in the nucleus of atoms, very small things that release lots of energy. These reactions are immensely productive offering huge quantities of energy usually expressed in heat and some new theories offer direct to electrical potential.

The devil is in the small stuff or more likely the glory is in the small things. This is the nano technology zone. That makes the story out of Europe significant news. We are just beginning to develop the devices that will transform the energy at the molecular and atomic level into useful work and fuels. With scientists working hard and fast at trying to bring concepts to working models at the nano technology level, they usually succeed. Scientific advances lead the innovation into products that make it to market. The problem lies in the transition from laboratory models into commercially viable products. ICT Results, offers that “The reason? Up to 80% of the initial cost for micro- and nano- devices is in the packaging and testing phase . . . Many innovations are just too expensive to commercialize.”

But the European Community has set up an organization, Patent-Dfmm, a network with its funding acts to support research early in the laboratory phase to assure more concepts have better commercialization prospects. With 60 projects in their inventory, the organization’s service is engaging in assisting researchers by teaching what the manufacturing constraints are before committing to laboratory design so that devices can be lower cost and quicker to market. The organization is already going into the next phase, developing service groups to assist researchers with manufacturing, testing and reliability.

The service seems to be a dynamic organization. While it sounds great, it raises some competitive issues. As an organization formed by the European Commission, it has morphed along now to become newsworthy. This month the organization expects to operate on a commercial basis.

That is something of a gauntlet thrown to the rest of the technological world. It could be an opportunity issue for industry associations to exploit or for example an antitrust matter in the U.S. While the relationships between commercial enterprises vary enormously in the customs of technological countries, the signal is sent that the Europeans have designs on getting further ahead faster and more broadly. With trillions of Euros, Dollars and Yen at stake in the energy and fuel arena, looking at the small stuff and the relationships between companies and labs across the globe has just gotten more complex and much more interesting.


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