Editorial Feature

Nanotechnology - Advancing Environmental Protection by Addressing Long-Term Sustainability of Resources and Resource Systems

Nanotechnology allows the advancement of environmental protection by tackling long-term sustainability of resources and resource systems. For example, using nanotechnology, green manufacturing can improve the manufacturing process by an increase in efficiency in energy as well as in materials. This article describes the potential and actual nanotechnology applications relating to energy, materials and water.

Nanotechnology and Water

Nanotechnology shows promise in contributing to the long-term availability, viability and quality of water and water resources. For example, through nanotechnology-based filtration system allows more water recycling and reusing.

The potential application of nanotechnology could extend even more broadly to health of the ecological system. Pesticides and fertilizers utilizing nanotechnology could result in less runoff of nitrogen, phosphorous, and toxic substances from agricultural, lawn and garden. This is potentially a significant emerging application for nanotechnology that can play an important role to sustainability.

Applications involving the dispersive use of nanotechnology and nanomaterials in water have the potential for wide exposures to aquatic life and humans. As a result, it is important to understand the environmental fate and toxicity of these nanomaterials.

Nanotechnology and Energy

Nanomaterials and nanotechnology shows promise in reducing the demand for energy through lighter and advanced materials. But on the other hand, since nanomaterial manufacturing can be energy intensive, it is important to consider the entire product lifecycle in developing and analyzing these technologies.

Nanotechnology shows great potential in renewable energy technologies such as solar energy and fuel cell technology, in addition to increasing energy efficiency. The use of solar photovoltaic (PV) has emerged as the most appropriate solutions and has continuously been gaining a lot of attention among industry players all across the globe. With the demand for clean energy sources continues to grow, the manufacturing and deployment of solar PV cells and photovoltaic arrays have expanded dramatically in the recent years.

In the race to make solar cells cheaper and more efficient, many researchers and start-up companies are betting on new designs that exploit nanomaterials and nanotechnology. Using nanotechnology, researchers can experiment with and control how a material generates, captures, transports, and stores free electrons--properties that are important for the conversion of sunlight into electricity.

Another promising alternative energy technology is fuel cells. Fuel cell converts a fuel, such as hydrogen into electricity via an electro-chemical reaction. Nanotechnology offers the possibility to safe, solid storage of hydrogen for vehicles as well as methods of producing and purifying hydrogen from hydrocarbon fuels for use in fuel cells or via electrolysis of water or ammonia.

Although nanotechnology is playing a key role in energy efficiency and cleaner sources of energy, it is important to consider energy use implications over the entire product lifecycle, especially in manufacturing of nanomaterials.

Nanotechnology and Materials

Nanotechnology could also lead to more efficient and effective use of materials. For instance, functionality of catalytic converters can be improved through nanotechnology, while on the other hand, reducing the amount of precious metals needed. With material functionality of nanomaterials increases, it could soon be possible to replace toxic materials in some cases while still achieving the desired functionality.

Nanotechnology also opens the possibility of nanomaterials being used as fuel additives and automotive catalysts and as catalysts for other energy-producing facilities.

Source: EPA Nanotechnology White Paper EPA 100/B-07/001 | February 2007

For more information on this source please visit EPA.

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