A new report published today by the UK government department for rural affairs, DEFRA, has found there are opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles by using nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is the science of developing materials at the atomic and molecular level in order to give them special electrical and chemical properties.

The ‘Environmentally Beneficial Nanotechnologies: Barriers and Opportunities’ report finds that nanoparticle fuel additives have been shown to increase the fuel efficiency of diesel engines by approximately 5%. This could result in a saving of 2-3m tonnes of CO2 in the UK, and could be implemented immediately across the UK diesel powered fleet. However, the report warns that this must be tempered by concerns about the health impact of free nanoparticles in diesel exhaust gases, and recommends that comprehensive toxicological testing and subsidised independent performance tests are conducted to validate environmental benefit.

In addition nanotechnology could be used to help speed up recharging of electric vehicles, which would make them more attractive to consumers. Using nanotechnology recharging could take less than 10 minutes, instead of the ‘hours’ currently needed. The report estimates that if low carbon electricity generation techniques are used, CO2 from private transport could be eliminated (64m tonnes) or, using the current energy mix, savings of 42m tonnes of carbon dioxide could be made. Without nanotechnology, electric vehicles are likely to remain niche due to the issues of charge time, concludes the report. It goes on to recommend that the UK government support fast track schemes for commercialisation and cultivate links with automotive multinationals.

The report also considered the hydrogen economy: Hydrogen powered vehicles could eliminate all noxious emissions from road transport, if the hydrogen is generated by renewable means, However it says that the technology is estimated to be 40 years away from universal deployment. The report recommends using public procurement to fund hydrogen powered buses in major cities to create a market and infrastructure for hydrogen powered transport.