During nanotechnology’s formative years, little attention was paid to potential environmental remediation. However, for a range of industrial sectors, nanotechnology-based products and processes are resulting in innovative applications. These applications are making major contributions to the next generation of our industrial capacity. In the future, can we expect a cleaner earth due to the positive environmental impact of nanotechnology?
There are many ways nanotechnology researchers are looking into the possible environmental impact of nanotechnology. Most especially, in helping them detect and clean up environmental contaminants. Be it saving dwindling water supplies, conserving energy or reducing consumption of precious raw materials, as well as by reducing greenhouse gases and hazardous wastes.
Environmental Impact Of Nanotechnology
Nanomaterials hold out the prospect of delivering sustainability benefits together with environmental improvements. Currently, however, nanotechnology is struggling to gain a seat at the table in the environmental protection sphere.
Even environmental engineering companies are only just beginning to understand the potential environmental impact of nanotechnology and the scope of its role in delivering probable outcomes.
Potential Environmental Benefits
Rising raw materials prices and volatile energy futures are stimulating a flood of new products onto the market. Additionally, the increasing environmental awareness amongst consumers is prodding this growth. These developments promise a host of opportunities for more effective environmental and climate protection. Nanomaterials to date have displayed unique physical and chemical properties. These properties make nanomaterials interesting as potential sources of innovative, environmentally friendly products.
Nanomaterials hold out the prospect of a major breakthrough in material science whether on;
- Increasing the survivability of materials exposed to the effects of weathering,
- Enhancing the durability of materials subject to mechanical stress, or
- Aiding the extension of the useful life of a product.
Similarly, nanotechnology-based dirt- and water-resistant coatings are reducing the frequency between cleaning cycles. Consequently, it is also reducing the size of labour inputs into the cleaning effort as well. , while unconventional insulation materials are looking to improve the energy efficiency of our buildings.
We have already seen how adding nanoparticles to a material can reduce weight and save energy during its transport phase. In the chemical industry, nanomaterials with novel catalytic properties are being used to boost energy and resource efficiency.
Researchers have also demonstrated how nanomaterials can replace environmentally problematic chemicals in some fields. Working on the nanoscale, researchers have demonstrated how an array of inexpensive and environmentally benign inorganic light harvesting nanocrystals can be combined with a low-cost electro-catalyst to fabricate an inexpensive and stable system for photoelectrochemical hydrogen production.
Nano-technology is attracting increased optimism that its specialized properties will make huge leaps in efficiency in energy production and storage product extraction and processing. Alone, these would contribute substantially to climate protection and reducing our future energy-related problems. This is a clear indication of the significant environmental impact of nanotechnology in the near future.
Nanotechnology Applications That Benefit Our Environment
Cleaning Up Oil Spills
Conventional clean-up techniques have struggled to be effective when faced with the problem of massive, large-scale oil spills. In recent years, nanotechnology has emerged as a potential source of unconventional solutions to many of the petroleum industry’s lingering oil clean up problems.
While still in its infancy, nanotechnology solutions for oil spill clean-ups offer a tantalizing promise for the future. In the last few years, interest has grown around the world in exploring ways of harnessing the unique properties of nanomaterials to clean up oil spills.
Nanotechnology-based water purification devices have the potential to transform the rapidly growing demand for desalination technology. One approach uses the ion concentration polarization phenomenon.
Another, comparatively new method of purifying brackish water is based on capacitive deionization (CDI) technology. CDI has the advantages of creating no secondary pollution and of being both cost-effective and energy efficient.
Nanotechnology researchers have developed a CDI application harnessing graphene-like nanoflakes as electrodes for capacitive deionization. Research showed the graphene electrodes resulted in a superior CDI performance than conventional materials using activated carbon.
Cleaning-Up Radioactive Waste In Water
Scientists are working on a nanotechnology-based solution to aid the cleanup of radioactive waste. The work is targeting specifically at the application of titanate nanofibers to extract radioactive ions from water.
The unique structural properties of titanate nanotubes and nanofibers confer major advantages over conventional materials for removing radioactive iodine ions and caesium from contaminated water.
Carbon Dioxide Capture
Much attention has been focused on reducing industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. Before CO2 can be effectively stored in existing Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage (CCS) schemes, the CO2 needs to be separated from the other waste gases produced by a combination of internal combustion engines or industrial processes.
Most current methods employing this type of filtration are proving to be expensive and cumbersome, as they require the use of chemicals. Nanotechnology-driven techniques to fabricate nanoscale thin membranes could prove to be the progenitor to a new generation of membrane technology that could eliminate the use of chemicals in the process and substantially reduce the costs of installed systems.
Artificial Photosynthesis Producing Hydrogen From Sunlight
The ”green” movement has long endorsed hydrogen-powered technologies as leaders of the environmentally friendly innovations that could save our planet.
While hydrogen fuel itself remains a clean energy carrier, the source of all that hydrogen is frequently a polluter. The problem confronting energy researchers is that hydrogen has to be produced. You simply can’t dig a well to tap into a rich source of hydrogen.
The cleanest solution to this is renewable energy electrolysis. This approach uses renewable energy technologies including wind, solar, geo- and hydrothermal power to split water into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen atoms.
Artificial photosynthesis, employing solar energy to split water to generate hydrogen and oxygen, offers the prospect of a clean and portable source of energy supply as durable as the sunlight.
To break down a single molecule of water into oxygen requires approximately 2.5 volts together with negatively charged electrons and positively charged protons. It is the extraction and separation of these oppositely charged electrons and protons from water molecules that provide the electric power for the process.
Safer Battery Recycling
Innovations in nanotechnology could make battery recycling economically attractive in coming years. Most batteries still contain heavy metals including nickel, mercury, lead, and cadmium, which contaminate the environment and pose a major health threat when batteries are improperly disposed of.
Not only do the billions upon billions of batteries in landfills pose an environmental hazard. They also represent a waste of scarce raw materials. Using nanotechnology, researchers have successfully discarded Zn-MnO2 alkaline batteries.
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In its formative years, researchers frequently underestimated the potential environmental impact of nanotechnology. Today, however, we are beginning to witness a range of applications where nanotechnology can, and is making a substantial contribution to environmental protection and rectification.