Common Nano-Materials and Their Use in Real World Applications

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Today engineered nano-materials have attracted a great deal of attention due to their important properties which have given birth to vast technological and economic growth in a number of industrial sectors. Nano-materials are indeed expected to become the cornerstone of a number of sectors such as microelectronics, materials, textiles, energy, healthcare and cosmetic goods. Nanotechnology applications will give rise to cleaner energy production, lighter and more durable materials, inexpensive clean water production and will benefit medical applications such as smart drugs and diagnostics.

However, one has to be mindful of the risks involved concerning potential toxicity and exposure route and the verdict is still out on a number of nano-materials as to the relative dangers to humans and the environment.

This brief review hopes to describe some of the main contenders and their real world applications but it should only be considered a snapshot of the industry and its relative potential.

Keywords: nanotechnology, nano-materials, metal oxides, photocatalysis, fullerenes, carbon nanotubes, graphene, titanium dioxide, silica aerogels, nano-ceramics, quantum dots

1. Introduction

The use of nano-materials in commercial products is rapidly increasing. In 2006, more than 300 commercial products on the market claimed to have enhanced properties due to incorporated nano-materials; this number had more than quadrupled by 2010 (1). Silver is the most common nano-material used in products, followed by carbon-based nano-materials and metal oxides such as Ti[O.sub.2].

Nanotechnology is going to pave the way for a revolution in materials, information and communication technology, medicine, genetics, etc. as commercialisation potential is driving innovation from the research laboratories into real world markets. The use of nano-materials can help to improve products and production processes with better characteristics or new functionalities. In coming years, products based on nanotechnology are expected to impact nearly all industrial sectors and will enter the consumer markets in large quantities. Due to the future potential of nanotechnology, many companies across the world are investing heavily in this sector.

According to the Nanotechnology Market Forecast to 2013 Report (3) the global market for nanotechnologies is projected to grow at an annual growth rate (AGR) of around 20% until 2013. The report also projects that the market for nanotechnology incorporated in manufactured goods will be worth US$ 1.6 Trillion, representing a CAGR of more than 49% in the forecast period (2009-2013). This growth will largely be driven by massive investment in nanotechnology R&D by both governments and corporates across the world.

According to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) (4) over 1,300 manufacturers have been identified who have nanotechnology-enabled products which have entered the commercial marketplace around the world. The most recent update to the group's five-year-old inventory reflects the continuing use of the nanosized particles in everything from conventional products like non-stick cookware (based on nano-ceramic coatings) to more unique items such as self-cleaning window treatments (based on electrochromic nanosized metal oxides). Health and fitness items continue to dominate the market with over half of the known products relating to this sector.

This review seeks to explain some of the more commonly commercialised nanomaterial products and some of the main emerging application areas. It would not be possible to go into great detail about all of the applications and nano-materials available but it is intended as a snapshot of the current state of the art of some of the leading contenders.

2. Nano-silver

Silver has been used since ancient times for a range of purposes from jewellery to currency to more modern applications in photography and medicine where it has been used as an antiseptic in wound management. …