Nano and the environment
Lots of promise...
Nanotechnologies show a lot of promise for big benefits in terms of better pollution sensors and clean up systems, cheap and portable water treatment and more effective filters for pollution and viruses.
In addition, the potential for environmentally friendly fuels like solar cells and hydrogen storage, better fuel efficiency and energy storage (see energy) pesticide replacements and more efficient, lighter cars, planes, ships (see transport) all help save materials and fuel, indirectly benefiting the environment.
...but it's not all good news
However there are serious concerns that some nano particles may have a detrimental effect on the environment if allowed in any significant quantities into the waste streams, onto the land or into the sea.
See Nano Safety for a little more, though we hope to have further detail in our full site.
Nano and the environment
Air, water and ground pollutants are a big problem for the environment. Some, like car exhaust fumes, accidental chemical spillages or the by-products of industrial processes can have huge impacts on the environment and human health. One of the exciting areas of nanotechnology is how it may help with the clean up of these pollutants.
Special filters and processes which allow nanoparticles to bind with the pollutants are the basis for these new developments, and may be particularly useful in cleaning up contaminated water. Viruses in the atmosphere can also be absorbed and degraded by face masks made from nano materials.
Titanium dioxide nanoparticles are known to break down dirt when sunlight shines on them. Nano-layers of this substance are being put on the glass of windows so that they are self-cleaning. These nanoparticles are now being used on buildings in cities where environmental pollution is broken down by the final nano coating on the building.
However, in many cases - for example, naturally occurring arsenic in water, which is a major problem in some developing and developed countries - it is not the invention of the technology itself which is the problem.
Cheap and portable nano sensors can help detect the arsenic, but getting the funds to buy the sensors and do the clean up, particularly in poorer countries like Nepal and Bangladesh which need it most, can be difficult.
Fuel efficiency and reducing emissions
Nano is making an impact already in reducing the emissions from car fuels by the creation of products which increase the efficiency of the combustion and breaking down the gases into less harmful compounds. New nano-enabled products can also take the heat from things like cars and convert them to energy. (See the Energy section for more about this.)
Lighter and more durable material
Stronger and lighter materials created by nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes may also have an important positive environmental impact by making lighter weight cars and airplanes (see Nano in transport) and by making things last longer to reduce the amount of material in landfills and recycling.
However there is also concern about how some of these new materials behave in disposal, recycling and landfills, which needs to be addressed by research.
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