MESA+ University of Twente
Research Business & Innovation About MESA+ Education

Volume 2, 2013

Nano solution for mega-problem

MESA+ offers five multidisciplinary strategic research programmes. Several research groups are investigating the frontiers of nanomaterials and energy research in the NanoMaterials for Energy programme.

Mark Huijben, programme director of the multidisciplinary research programme NanoMaterials for Energy: “It’s frequently a matter of the price we have to pay for energy. For instance, you can make highly effective solar panels, but if they are very expensive then there is little point. At MESA+ we are trying to develop new materials that will contribute to a sustainable future with affordable energy.”

Nano minimises loss
MESA+ research consequently also delves into energy loss. Or even better: ensures that the loss remains as low as possible. Huijben: “Half of all the electricity we generate is lost. Look for instance at the heat expelled from a car’s exhaust. You could convert that heat into electricity by using new nanomaterials. The French and German car industries are very interested in that.” The industry would also like to find a solution for the mediocre batteries used in electric cars. In the future they must become two to three times more efficient by nanotechnology so that they can travel just as far by one battery charge as a car that runs on petrol.

Nano improves batteries
As the programme director, Huijben is the figurehead of the NanoMaterials for Energy programme. He is often out on the road finding out whether joint ventures with other parties are feasible. He recently had a meeting with a major battery research institute in Münster, Germany, and a discussion with the Mayor of Enschede on a regional collaboration.

Nano combines
Huijben maintains close contact with 18 of the 34 research groups within MESA+. Some fifty doctoral candidates and postgraduates are working on solar cells, fuel cells, piezoelectric systems and other subjects in the field of nanomaterials and energy. Once a month the researchers present their results to one another. Huijben: “We are looking to see where internal collaboration is possible so that we can set up new projects. If, for instance, you combine research in the field of photocatalysis with nanoelectronics you can make nano devices for solar fuels.”

Nano is not something that happens of its own accord
The sun again? Huijben: “Yes, that’s where the future lies. It doesn’t necessarily have to be by means of solar panels. You can also think in terms of solar fuels; in principle that’s also a form of solar energy, only it will be directly chemically stored and not stored in the form of electricity like in batteries.” And wind energy? Or nuclear fusion? Huijben: “Fusion still has to prove its worth. It’s much too early for that. Wind energy can play a role, but the sun’s potential is many times greater. But let me stress: it’s not something that will happen of its own accord. We really need to invest in research and development over the next few years, otherwise energy will become prohibitive within the space of ten years.”

Nano is crucial
And nano will have to help solve that mega energy problem? Huijben: “Nano is crucial in that respect. Thanks to nano research we now understand, for example, the fundamental workings of a solar cell and therefore also today’s limitations so that we can develop crucial improvements. You must know how something works on the smallest scale to realise the biggest changes.”

Name: Mark Huijben (1978)
POSITION : Programme Director NanoMaterials for Energy and lecturer in the Inorganic Materials Science group.
PREVIOUSLY: Huijben obtained his master’s degree in technical physics from the University of Twente. During his study he did his practical training at Stanford University (U.S.). He obtained his doctorate in 2006 - also from the University of Twente - on research into new properties of the interface between oxydic materials by means of atomic controlled fabrication. After receiving his doctorate he became a postgraduate at UC Berkeley (U.S.). Since 2009 he has been a lecturer and programme director at the University of Twente
MESA+... “Knowledge of the minute ensures major applications”

NanoMaterials for Energy

The Strategic Research Orientation ‘NanoMaterials for Energy’ combines energy research on nanomaterials. This research focuses for instance on: solar cells, fuel cells, piezo-electronics and thermoelectronics. More information can be obtained via:

Strategic Research Orientations

To stimulate collaboration between the various disciplines MESA+ works on the basis of a unique structure of Strategic Research Orientations (SROs) in which some 35 researchers in allied fields of study work together on a single new theme. This method of working leads to ground-breaking interdisciplinary research, it reinforces the cohesion between ongoing research, and it simplifies broaching completely new fields of research. MESA+ offers five multidisciplinary strategic research programmes:

1. Applied NanoPhotonics

2. NanoMaterials for Energy

3. Enabling Technologies

4. Nanotechnology for Innovative Medicine

5. Risk Analysis and Technology Assessment