Nanotechnology is being used in several applications to improve the
environment. This includes cleaning up existing pollution, improving
manufacturing methods to reduce the generation of new pollution, and
making alternative energy sources more cost effective.
The Application of Nanotechnology to Environmental Issues
In trying to help our ailing environment, nanotechnology researchers
and developers are pursuing the following avenues:
Generating less pollution during the manufacture of materials.
One example of this is how researchers have demonstrated that the use of
silver nanoclusters as
catalysts can significantly reduce the polluting byproducts generated in
the process used to manufacture propylene oxide. Propylene oxide is used
to produce common materials such as plastics, paint, detergents and
Producing solar cells that generate electricity at a
competitive cost. Researcher have demonstrated that
an array of silicon
nanowires embedded in a polymer results in low cost but high
efficiency solar cells. This, or other efforts using nanotechnology to
improve solar cells, may result in solar cells
that generate electricity as cost
effectively as coal or oil.
Increasing the electricity generated by windmills. Epoxy containing carbon nanotubes
is being used to make
The resulting blades are stronger
and lower weight and therefore the amount of electricity generated
by each windmill is greater.
Cleaning up organic chemicals polluting groundwater.
Researchers have shown that iron nanoparticles can be effective in
cleaning up organic solvents that are polluting groundwater. The iron nanoparticles disperse throughout the body of water and
decompose the organic solvent in place. This method can be more effective
and cost significantly less than treatment methods that require the
water to be pumped out of the ground.
Cleaning up oil spills. Using photocatalytic copper
tungsten oxide nanoparticles to
break down oil
into biodegradable compounds. The nanoparticles are in a grid that
provides high surface area for the reaction, is activated by sunlight
and can work in water, making them useful for cleaning up oil spills.
Clearing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from air.
Researchers have demonstrated a catalyst that breaks down VOCs at
room temperature. The catalyst is composed of
oxide in which gold nanoparticles have been embedded.
Reducing the cost of fuel cells. Changing the
spacing of platinum atoms used in a fuel cell
ability of the platinum. This allows the fuel cell to function with
about 80% less platinum, significantly reducing the cost of the fuel
Storing hydrogen for fuel cell powered cars. Using graphene layers to increase the binding energy of hydrogen to the
graphene surface in a fuel tank results in a higher amount of hydrogen
storage and a lighter weight fuel tank. This could
help in the development of practical hydrogen-fueled cars.
Environmental Nanotechnology Research Centers
Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology
Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology
Center for Environmental
Implications of Nanotechnology (UCLA)