In nature, uni- and multicellular organisms are capable of reducing and accumulating metal ions as detoxification and homeostasis mechanisms when exposed to metal ion solutions. Although the exact mechanisms and identities of microbial proteins associated for metal nanoparticle synthesis are not clear, two cysteine-rich, heavy metal-binding biomolecules, phytochelatin and metallothionein have been relatively well characterized. Phytochelatins are peptides that are synthesized by the protein phytochelatin synthase and that can form metal complexes with cadmium, copper, silver, lead and mercury, while metallothioneins are gene-encoded proteins capable of directly binding metals such as copper, cadmium, and zinc. This capability of phytochelatin and metallothionein - having different metal binding affinities to various metal ions - has now been employed by researchers for the in vivo biosynthesis of metal nanoparticles by recombinant Escherichia coli.
One possible option for reducing CO2 emissions from power plants is to capture them before they hit the atmosphere and store the gas underground. This technique is called Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage. However, before CO2 can be stored, it must be separated from the other waste gases resulting from combustion or industrial processes. Most current methods used for this type of filtration are expensive and require the use of chemicals. Nanotechnology techniques to fabricate nanoscale thin membranes could lead to new membrane technology that could change that.
Current membranes are in many cases not competitive for large scale applications, because their permeance for carbon dioxide is not high enough. Researchers in Germany have now reported the development and manufacturing of nanometric thin film membranes with record performance.
Along with control of fire, iron smelting is one of the founding technological pillars of civilization. Industry has used the same basic process to make iron for over 3000 years. Yet, it is also one of the major global sources of greenhouse gas release. Iron, a basic commodity, is still produced by the greenhouse gas intensive reduction of iron oxide by carbon-coke and currently accounts for the release of one quarter of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions by industry. For instance, on average 1.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted for every tonne of steel produced. Due to a large share of coal in the energy mix of current production technology, the CO2 emissions are high. Through a new understanding of the chemistry of iron at high temperature, researchers have uncovered an effective new carbon-dioxide-free process to form iron.
Quite a lot of nanotechnology research and manufacturing efforts go into synthesizing metal-based nanoparticles. Unfortunately, some of the nanoparticle manufacturing processes themselves as well as the final nanoparticle materials may be of potential concern for environmental regulators and for researchers attempting to address nanomaterial toxicity. As an alternative to using these potentially hazardous metal-based nanoparticles, some researchers are suggesting the use of naturally occurring nanoparticles. However, this area has not yet been well explored with regard to natural nanoparticles' diverse properties and potential applications. Researchers have now made the discovery that naturally occurring nanoparticles have unique optical properties. In addition, they are less toxic and biodegradable than their synthesized, metal-based counterparts. This discovery makes it likely that scientists will be able to find more biocompatible nanoparticles to replace metal-based nanoparticles, predominantly for biomedical applications.
The alarming rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has led a numerous proposals on how to capture and store carbon dioxide in order to mitigate the damaging emissions from fossil fuels. Popular proposals, some already being tested on a large scale, involve carbon sequestration and subsequent storage in geological formations (geo-sequestration). Other ideas revolve around recycling captured carbon dioxide, for instance by converting it into hydrocarbons that can be re-used to make fuel or plastics. While these solutions would result in removing some carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, their disadvantages are that most of them are expensive, technologically challenging, or energy-intensive. Researchers have now presented the first experimental evidence of a new solar conversion process, combining electronic and chemical pathways, for carbon dioxide capture in what could become a revolutionary approach to remove and recycle CO2 from the atmosphere on a large scale. Rather than trying to sequester or hide away excess carbon dioxide, this new method allows it to be stored as solid carbon or converted in useful products.
Developing chemicals, molecular precursors, and industrial products from petroleum resources is a conventional practice. Plastics, detergents, even pharmaceuticals are derived from petrochemicals. With an increasing focus on the economic and environmental issues associated with the processing of petroleum-based chemicals, scientists are seeking for alternative routes to develop molecules from naturally available plant or crop-based raw materials. Particularly interesting for the fields of nanotechnology is the design and development of soft nanomaterials from renewable sources. Generating these materials from renewable resources could have a significant impact on production technologies and economies.
Metal nanomaterials are often synthesized using the toxic reagent formaldehyde at concentrations thousands of times higher than necessary. Many of these same nanomaterials are being investigated for use in cancer treatment - however, there is a risk that they could do more harm than good. The large excess of formaldehyde that is used originates from methods developed 100 years ago. Because these methods work well, they have stood the test of time. By better understanding the role that formaldehyde plays in nanomaterial synthesis it will become possible to reduce or eliminate this toxic reagent. By eliminating formaldehyde it will become safer to prepare these nanomaterials and safer to use them in cancer treatment.
'Smart' windows, or smart glass, refers to glass technology that includes electrochromic devices, suspended particle devices, micro-blinds and liquid crystal devices. Their major feature is that they can control the amount of light passing through the glass and increase energy efficiency of the room by reducing costs for heating or air-conditioning. In the case of self-powered smart windows the glass even generates the energy needed to electrically switch its transparency. A new type of smart window proposed by researchers in The Netherlands makes use of a luminescent dye-doped liquid-crystal solution sandwiched in between electrically conductive plates as an energy-generating window.