It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that cleantech, in large part, is actually materials tech. “Nanotechnology” has some vogue as a term, but fundamentally nanotech is materials technology, and materials technology is broader than nanotech (altering materials at a molecular or atomic scale).
Materials are at the core of most of the required innovations to help solve our most daunting environmental and energy challenges.
New materials to help extract contaminants from gaseous and liquid pollution streams.
New materials to improve the electrochemistries of batteries, solar modules, and fuel cells.
New materials to eliminate the need for rare earth metals in permanent magnet generators and motors.
New materials to lighten and strengthen vehicles and wind turbine blades.
New materials to increase the efficiency of thermal transfer in anything combustion-related.
And on and on and on.
Alas, materials science and engineering is not a particularly widely-pursued discipline — it’s quite nichey relative to chemical engineering or chemistry.
It strikes me that we cleantech advocates need to get smarter in and pay more attention to the materials arena as fertile ground for the next big thing. For young people with good STEM aptitude and strong interest in cleantech, materials science/engineering is a good field in which to start digging.
We in Northeast Ohio are fortunate to have two of the world’s best university programs in materials, at the University of Akron and at Case Western Reserve University. Also, and not coincidentally, a large ecosystem of companies based on materials innovation is clustered in Northeast Ohio, with some of the most well-known being Goodyear (NYSE: GT), Sherwin-Williams (NYSE: SHW), Lubrizol, Ferro (NYSE: FOE), Materion (NYSE: MTRN), RPM (NYSE: RPM), GrafTech (NYSE: GTI), PolyOne (NYSE: POL), A. Schulman (NASDAQ: SHLM), etc. Between academia and industry, our region is well-suited to inventing the materials technologies that can make a huge difference in the cleantech world.