Philippines energy consultant Nick Nichols reports that Headwaters Technology Innovation Group (the subsidiary where energy firm Headwaters Inc. hides all its nanotech geeks), is close to finalizing a deal to build a large coal-to-gas plant in the Philippines.
Close NanoBot followers might remember that I had correctly picked out Headwaters as a possible company for this deal back when the potential American partner was a state secret. I hadn't noticed that a few months after my 2004 blog post, the company signed a memorandum of understanding in a ceremony attended by the Philippines president and energy secretary. Headwaters handed in its feasibility study in September 2005.
Great, but where's the nano? As I reported in the Forbes/Wolfe Nanotech Report back in '04, quoting Bruce Springsteen: "You can’t start a fire without a spark." And you can’t change chemistry without a catalyst.
Most catalysts in commercial use today use a metal to set off the reaction – primarily in the platinum group. These metals are used because they’re the most active and can be selectively controlled. But, as any shopper at Tiffany’s can testify, platinum isn’t exactly cheap. Plus, just nano-sizing the stuff isn’t enough.
Tinier particles tend to be more active and want to interact with one another – migrating all over the place and then clumping together, essentially losing this high-surface-area advantage. Not only that, but some surface areas of a catalyst are more-active than others, so another trick is to ensure that the right kind of crystal surface is exposed.
Headwaters has come up with a better way of making catalysts so that particles stay uniform and separated. These nanocatalysts can be used for coal liquefaction in addition to hydrogen peroxide, which goes into polyurethane foam. Other applications include pharmaceuticals, electronics, and titanium dioxide used in sunscreens – anything where you need small particles dispersed uniformly. And a key advantage of Headwaters' process is few byproducts and less waste -- getting closer to truly "green" chemistry.
However, as I pointed out in December 2004, while it's wonderful that the Philippines are going to benefit from decades of U.S. spending on coal liquefaction research, when is the United States going to benefit?