Areas where nanotechnology is used
Today, a life without nanotechnology is hard to imagine. Nanotechnologies – to be more specific: nanomaterials – are already used in numerous products and industrial applications. Our Nanotechnology Products and Applications database already provides an overview of how nanomaterials and nanostructuring applications are used today in industrial and commercial appplications across industries (please note: This is NOT a consumer products database that you can find elsewhere; so no antibacterial socks, bathroom cleaners, face creams, or pet products here...).
Our section "Ten things you should know about nanotechnology" provides you with an excellent first overview of what nanotechnologies are, what they are used for, and what some of the key issues are. If you want to get a more in-depth view of nanotechnology in important industry areas, then this section is for you. Also check out our primer How does nanotechnology work?
Here is a brief overview of some current applications of nanomaterials. Most of them represent evolutionary developments of existing technologies: for example, the reduction in size of electronics devices. They also give us an idea where nanotechnology will take us and where nanotechnology can be used in the future.
An important use of nanoparticles and nanotubes is in composites, materials that combine one or more separate components and which are designed to exhibit overall the best properties of each component. This multi-functionality applies not only to mechanical properties, but extends to optical, electrical and magnetic ones. Currently, carbon fibres and bundles of multi-walled CNTs are used in polymers to control or enhance conductivity, with applications such as antistatic packaging. The use of individual CNTs in composites is a potential long-term application. A particular type of nanocomposite is where nanoparticles act as fillers in a matrix; for example, carbon black used as a filler to reinforce car tyres. However, particles of carbon black can range from tens to hundreds of nanometres in size, so not all carbon black falls within our definition of nanoparticles.
Clays containing naturally occurring nanoparticles have long been important as construction materials and are undergoing continuous improvement. Clay particle based composites – containing plastics and nano-sized flakes of clay – are also finding applications such as use in car bumpers.
Nanocoatings and nanostructured surfaces
Coatings with thickness controlled at the nano- or atomic scale have been in routine production for some time, for example in molecular beam epitaxy or metal oxide chemical vapor deposition for optoelectonic devices, or in catalytically active and chemically functionalized surfaces. Recently developed applications include the self-cleaning window, which is coated in highly activated titanium dioxide, engineered to be highly hydrophobic (water repellent) and antibacterial, and coatings based on nanoparticulate oxides that catalytically destroy chemical agents.
Wear and scratch-resistant hard coatings are significantly improved by nanoscale intermediate layers (or multilayers) between the hard outer layer and the substrate material. The intermediate layers give good bonding and graded matching of elastic and thermal properties, thus improving adhesion. A range of enhanced textiles, such as breathable, waterproof and stainresistant fabrics, have been enabled by the improved control of porosity at the nanoscale and surface roughness in a variety of polymers and inorganics.