November 30, 2009

Future Looks Bright And Tiny

By: by Jim Gordon, Westfair Online


Bigger is not better in nanotechnology, unless you are talking about the size of New York's nanotech industry. The nanosector has been growing steadily since 2004 and now hopes for a quantum leap through use of nanomaterials to boost renewable energy manufacturing cluster in the Hudson Valley.

Established only in 2004, the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering has grown from a faculty roster of three to its current 50 professors overseeing teaching and research in nanoengineering, nanobioscience and nanoeconomics. An investment by state taxpayers that now totals $1 billion has been augmented by private-sector investment of an additional $4 billion and what was once a patch of woods on the campus of SUNY-Albany now has 1 million square feet of space for education, research and development.

"The college is a new paradigm, not just in academic education and training, but how we interact with companies and how we do it internally," said Pradeep Haldar, addressing the Hudson Valley Center for Innovation on Nov. 18 at the seven21 Media Center in Kingston. Haldar is director of the Energy and Environmental Technology Applications Center at the college.

He said that the experts in nanotechnology work together across disciplines to foster synergies in academics that lead to better interaction with businesses. "We call them constellations and not departments and like to make sure there are no silos between these departments," said Haldar. "Traditionally departments don't talk to each other; we try and get them to talk."

He said the college has benefited from being essentially a startup institution, being appended to SUNY-Albany which was largely a liberal arts center, as part of then-Gov. George Pataki's efforts to spark economic growth in New York. Many professors came from industry where success is measured by progress toward production and not in credits on published papers.

Traditionally, academic work brings basic research and development to a certain stage and then tosses the knowledge into the lap of private entrepreneurs for development toward useful products. Haldar said the difference at Albany Nanotech is that researchers don't let go of their ideas, but work with colleagues and private companies to speed production of products. "We really make sure it meshes really well," said Haldar. "Our goal is to make sure a company succeeds."

The Hudson Valley is consciously positioning itself as a center for solar power development and manufacturing and Haldar said that nanotechnology can provide a huge boost in the efficiency of collecting and storing solar power and its conversion to electricity.  
Nanotechnology is ideally positioned to impact energy usage, he said, since electrons bob and weave in the arena for which things nano are designed.

To optimize nanotech's role in efficiency and renewable energy, the college is designing and building the Zero Energy Nano or ZEN building, a 125,000-square-foot facility to explore the latest ideas in clean energy savings and production techniques.

"It is going to serve as a real-life test model for a lot of the technologies coming down the pike," said Haldor. He said current designs make the ZEN building close to self-sustaining in energy usage, which is perhaps unique for a large-scale commercial facility, and will have "pull-and-plug module design," so that new ideas can be installed and tested with relative ease.

He said there is currently little testing of designs before production in structures in areas from wastewater management to geothermal heating and cooling. The ZEN building is being designed to allow architects to work with engineers to perfect ideas before bringing them to production.

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