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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > The Future of Nanotechnology > Environmental Applications of Nanotechnology

Amanda Richter

When the staff at Knole House in Kent, England, realized that bio-organisms where destroying this 600-year-old European estate, it was not the landscapers, painters or architects who saved the day. It was the chemical engineers.

September 23rd, 2015

Environmental Applications of Nanotechnology

When the staff at Knole House in Kent, England, realized that bio-organisms where destroying this 600-year-old European estate, it was not the landscapers, painters or architects who saved the day. It was the chemical engineers. According to a report from the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, engineers employed nanotechnology specifically designed to stave the growth of outdoor organisms, and this historic house was able to preserve its architectural and artistic characteristics without loss of color or texture.

As an outdoor protectant, nanotechnology is finding its home. Bio-adhesive sprays, hydrophobic coating and electro-generating veneers are just some of the examples of nanotech's offerings to the outdoors enthusiast.

Fear the Water
There is a difference between water resistant and water phobic. This is something that hunters, environmentalists and hikers have learned the hard way. Water on water-resistant hiking boots will still pool on the laces and tongue, ultimately dripping onto socks and making the trek uncomfortable. Hydrophobic sprays, using the anthropomorphized root for fear of water, actually drive the water away from the hiking boots and outdoor equipment. Many of the hiking boots available todayhave been treated with nano-engineered hydrophobic sprays.

NeverWet is the leader in hydrophobic nanotech, making a big splash with their YouTube videos. The hydrophobic spray creates microscopic roughness on the surface which holds nano sized pockets of air. The water drops, having internal cohesion, slide over the air without wetting the surface. Scientists have been studying this phenomenon for years, but it was Rust-Oleum and NeverWet scientists that made it possible in a bottle that costs less than $20.

Self-Driving Windows
Windows are an essential element of architectural design. At its core, the window blends indoor and outdoor environments, making us part of nature even in the most inhospitable settings. Because windows are the threshold to the outside, nano-technicians have found a way to make them pull double duty. A team led by Professor Muhammad Mustafa Hussain of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah University of Science and Technology have integrated nanoscale thermoelectric generators into the silicon material of glass. According to Nanowerk, the glass still transmits light, but the temperature difference between the inside and outside of the home activates the nanoparticles, creating electricity that can be captured in a storage cell. The most difficult part of the tech is placing microscopic particles into a slow-moving fluid without them clumping or sinking. To overcome this, the team placed the thermoelectric generator into nanotubes, making them easier to position and control.

Tiny Nurses
Like clothing and architecture, the human body faces daily attack from the elements. Sun, wind and cold all damage the skin. The danger from cuts can range from painful to fatal, especially if you do not have access to medical facilities. Scientists realized the same damage seen in aerospace is seen in human and animal medicine. Researchers from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands studied the self-healing effects of nanopolymer adhesives in both aerospace and biomedical application. The researchers used a gel composite with nanoparticles in suspension to fill ridges in barrier scratches. Macro-sized scratches up to 500 microns in width could be filled with the much smaller particles, restoring the barrier properties of the material. In this case, the material could be the aluminum siding of an airplane or the flesh of a living animal. The polymer even proved to be flexible without losing integrity, making its potential for medical application high.

Scientists and engineers in the nanotechnology field are finding that there is little difference in application between medical uses and textile uses. The same benefits that nanotechnology offers environmental, textile, and aerospace engineers are available to biomedical scientists.

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