Nanotechnology – making small stuff do big things
More than ten years ago, it was unimaginable- even impossible- for maps, calculators, telephones, dictionaries, compasses, notebooks, books, etc. to all fit inside your pocket. Now, we have all those things and so much more compressed in a pocket-sized gadget that we can just carry around wherever we go. Who would have thought that in just one screen, thousands of applications can be accessed?
But today nanotechnology is evolving not just in designing new waves of computer chips and gadgets but also in developing the use of energy, science, medicine, environment, electronics, communications, surveillance, and many other things. Erwin Enriquez defined nanotechnology as anything that deals with materials and devices that are fabricated within the nanometer scale, and the tools and phenomena that are manifested within these scales.
What exactly are these scales? To understand it better, let us borrow from one of our sources who asked us to imagine pulling out one strand of our hair. As we feel its thinness on our fingers, imagine separating it into 100,000 more strands. That’s about the size of a nanometer.
Dubbed to be the new technology, nanotechnology is paving way to many more ideas that can potentially change the world. Let’s look at a few examples:
Eradicating water pollution with nanotechnology
Water pollution poses a major threat to any country in the world. The earth, being made up of water for the most part, may be seen as having an infinite source of water; but the thing is, sources of potable water are being depleted as industrialization and modernization become full blown in the current era.
According to the World Water Development Report in 2012, 90% of the waste water generated in developing countries flow directly to bodies of water, which is a threat to purity and safety of drinking water in these places (unwater.org, 2012). The incessant advancements brought about by modernization at present continue to generate harmful waste that could pollute the world’s sources of drinking water. As such, there is a need to employ better ways of purifying water from contaminants before they are made available for people to drink.
New innovations involve the use of nanotechnology to purify ground water from pollutants. Nanoparticles are used to make contaminants harmless through a chemical reaction (understandingnano.com).
Nanoparticles, as shown in the earlier example in water purification, can be used to eliminate harmful contaminants from water. They can be used to eradicate bacteria as well, working through a process where these nanoparticles attach themselves to pollutants. These nanoscavengers, as they are called, have synthetic cores which are coated with reactive nanoparticles which can easily be magnetized (understandingnano.com). They are termed as such since they “feed” on harmful substances. Once these nanoscavengers are integrated into dirty water, they eliminate the bacteria by attaching to them and are brought out of the water when the force of a magnetic field is employed.
A threat to threats
Nanotechnology’s range is not limited to bacteria. It can also be used to remove sediments, chemicals, charged particles, and other pathogens (sciencedaily.com, 2010). One example mentioned in Science Daily’s article is that of carbon nanotube membranes, which can purify water from almost any contaminant.
Nanotech purifier filters. Photo from http://assets.inhabitat.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2010/09/water-filter2.jpg
Nanotechnology brings forth new possibilities for water purification. With the help of this innovation, cleaning and purifying water is no longer limited to the use of chlorine or other chemicals which eliminate unwanted organisms and/or substances. With nanotechnology, the capability of removing any sort of contaminant improves continuously as this advancement flourishes at the present times, and as it is honed and polished as the years go by.
Nanotechnology utilized for air purification
Natural and artificial processes and activities have caused a mass introduction of harmful materials into the planet’s atmosphere. Pollutants from various origins make their way into the ecosystem and accumulate overtime causing disease, damage and death to humans and other organisms. This problem has been persisting for quite a while, triggering various strives that are geared at mitigating the harms caused by these substances in the air. Nanotechnology, in its different shapes and forms, has been utilized in order to ensure the safety of the earth and its inhabitants from the detriments of air pollutants. Nanotechnology plays a vital role in filtering out pollution already present, reduction of pollutants produced by improving key processes, and creating more cost-efficient alternative energy sources.
Lessening of air pollutants during manufacturing
Propylene oxide is an industrially generated liquid intended for the production of polyurethane plastics, paint, detergents, and other industry-relevant materials. Despite its glaring advantages, the production of propylene oxide yields massive amounts of harmful substances like chlorinated or peroxycarboxylic waste. This proves it inefficiency in the grander scale of things. These aforesaid substances really are a threat to the safety of people, seeing that they are actually probable carcinogens.
In order to lessen the threat of propylene oxide by-products, nanotechnology frontrunners have developed silver nanoclusters as catalysts. They use this technology to produce the same liquid but yield far less pollutants overall when used in low temperatures. This makes the entire process more efficient and more environmentally friendly.
Filtering out carbon dioxide in power plants
A third of the world’s carbon dioxide (C02) emissions come from energy production. Plants that opt to be more environmentally friendly do so by separating the CO2 from the waste gasses and depositing them in the ground. This process however is very expensive and requires the use of many chemicals, making it less popular in the energy production industry.
Since there is a need for a more efficient way to filter out CO2, The Norwegian University of Science and Technology has developed a new membrane technology that helps make this process a lot easier. This membrane is fashioned by means of nanotechnology and is made out of a plastic material that proves to be quite inexpensive and highly effective. When used, it allows the other gases to pass through freely while locking in the CO2 emissions. This can actually be used for nearly all CO2 removal processes, making it easier for various industries to subscribe to this particular kind of activity. More avenues for CO2 storage has been created, causing for less emissions in the atmosphere.
Life was easier ever since the discovery of nanotechnology.Many improvements in the computer has been made, like increasing memory and in speed, more storage capacity and less power consumption. The nanoscale transistors are faster, powerful, energy-efficient and in the future, the computer’s entire memory can fit in a very tiny chip. Even for altering one’s body, there are hip implants that are said to be “friendlier” because of nanoscale topography that encourages cells to accept them.
Automobiles have also improved. The materials used in them are now lighter and stronger. Also, according to National Nanotechnology Initiative, cars can now have rechargeable batteries, thermoelectric materials for temperature control, lower-rolling-resistance tires; high-efficiency/low-cost sensors and electronics; thin-film smart solar panels; and fuel additives and improved catalytic converters for cleaner exhaust and extended range. Right now, they are trying to look for fuel cells that are cleaner and better for the environment.
Nanotechnology can also be found in people’s everyday life. Example is watching in 3D, that is nanotechnology working. High-definition (HD) watching uses nanotechnology as well. Nano sized polymers in displays allow brighter images, less power consumption and more viewing angles. Nanotechnology also helps with the accelerometer and rotation of people’s smartphone screens. Even their clothes nowadays are being improved by nanotechnology. New fabrics are made to be resistant to liquid by having little hairs or whiskers to help repel them. The liquid simply falls off without leaving marks of stains or dampness. Fabrics are coated with a thin layer of zinc oxide nanoparticles that resists wrinkling, bacterial growth and even gives better protection against ultraviolet rays. Now, it is easier to repel dirt and lessen the use of harmful cleaning agents. As said in the National Nanotechnology Initiative, even eyeglasses, windows, camera displays, computer and other surfaces can have water-repellant, anti-reflective, self-cleaning, resistant to ultraviolet or infrared light, anti-fog, antimicrobial, scratch-resistant or electrically conductive. It is scratch resistant and resistant to chipping because of the aluminum silicate nanoparticles applied to polymer coatings. Also, polymer composite materials for sports equipment like baseball bats and tennis rackets, motorcycle helmets, car bumpers, suitcase and tools for housing can be lightweight, stiff, durable and resilient due to nanotechnology.
The idea of self-cleaning glass may seem impossible, but Pilkington offers it already, calling it Activ Glass. It uses nanoparticles to make the glass hydrophilic and photocatalytic. It being hydrophilic spreads the water once it makes contact with the glass, which washes it clean. They photocatalytic breaks down the dirt by being energized once hit by ultraviolet radiation.
There is a bright future for nanotechnology. Many countries are now investing on the technology of this century. According to Tanishq Abraham, a 10 year-old college student, the future of nanotechnology can lead to making a real invisibility cloak. Nanoparticles have negative refractive index, that makes light bend in a different way. The photons would go around the object; people would see not the object because they will see the image behind it. There are many things nanotechnology holds for us, we just have to explore more in this very tiny world.
Shining some light on Solar Panel Nanotechnology
According to the National Academy of Engineering, the Earth receives power from the sun that is 10,000 times more energy than what all the commercial power plants produce but harvesting it is the problem because it can be costly and limiting when it comes to capturing the energy (news.nationalgeographic.com/).
What scientists found as a solution is to use black metals with a nanostructured surface for solar panels, to trap more light. The surface of these metals are treated by “roughening them at the nanoscale level to create dips and ridges just billionths of a metre apart. It actually makes them blacker. This gives them lower reflectivity and makes them able to absorb more wavelengths of light” (theguardian.com).
To add, Rockefeller Foundation states that “nanotechnology-built panels have a smooth surface that prevents water, dust and dirt accumulation, making them self-cleaning, anti-fading, anti-fogging and anti-bacterial.” These Self-Cleaning Solar Panels which avoids build-up results to 6% improved solar energy absorption, 35% more efficiency over a 20-year period, decreased need for yearly cleaning and three to five year decrease in cost payback time (http://centennial.rockefellerfoundation.org/).
Nanotechnology also made it possible for the Dye-Enhanced Solar Cells which mimics nature’s process of photosynthesis. Northwestern University researchers last 2012 made a new type of “dye-sensitized” solar cell “which uses an organic dye monolayer to help absorb sunlight, much as plants do for photosynthesis.” It uses nanomaterials like titanium dioxide nanoparticles and caesium tin iodide thin films, as high-performance p-type and n-type semiconductors. (azonano.com)
New technologies are on the way, says National Geographic. University of Connecticut and Penn State researchers are using a new approach through nanoscale antenna arrays. These would “take in a wider range of frequencies and collect about 70 percent of the available energy in sunlight.” Also, even without additional gear, these arrays can convert that energy to direct current. (news.nationalgeographic.com)
Enriquez, Erwin. Stellar Origins of Human Ways: Nanotechnology for the Philippines
Soutter, Will. “Nanotechnology in Solar Power.” Nanotechnology in Solar Power. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Jan. 2014. <http://www.azonano.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=3068>.
Cave, Holly. “Mother Nature Talks Nanotech: The Ultimate Solar Panel.” Theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 17 Sept. 2013. Web. 18 Jan. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/science/small-world/2013/sep/17/nanotech-ultimate-solar-panel>.
“100 Innovators.” Nanotechnology to Improve Solar Panel Efficiency. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Jan. 2014. <http://centennial.rockefellerfoundation.org/innovators/profile-dev/solar-energy-better-solutions-to-renewable-energy>.
Kiger, Patrick J. “Sun Plus Nanotechnology: Can Solar Energy Get Bigger by Thinking Small?” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 28 Apr. 2013. Web. 18 Jan. 2014. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/04/130429-nanotechnology-solar-energy-efficiency/>.