Nanotechnology has impacted all the major industrial sectors, including electronics, medicine, agriculture, chemicals, coatings, cosmetics and energy. By incorporating nanomaterials into their products, companies can make new technologies which are more sustainable. Not only does nanotechnology improve the performance and design of these products, there are also large revenues associated with nanotechnology enhanced product sales. A good example of this is Lux Research which has achieved over $1 trillion from the commercial sales of the nanotechnology-enabled products in 2015 in Europe and the USA.
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The manufacturing process of nanomaterials can be compared to the chemical manufacturing process and is known to produce harmful pollutants as well as adverse environmental effects. Although these can be mitigated during the initial design stage, it has not been seen as a priority for current industries. However, as companies become more environmentally conscious, these harmful pollutants should be reduced, especially when manufacturing on a commercial scale. By using green technology, companies can minimize the environmental effects of the process.
Green technology works with nanotechnology to develop significant and practical protocols when manufacturing nanotechnology-enabled products. By modifying the production process, the risks that are associated with nano-products are minimized and the green products can be used for environmental applications. This can be through direct applications, such as nano-enabled sensors, wastewater and drinking water treatment and remediation of hazardous waste using nanomaterials. On the other hand, nanotechnology can also have indirect environmental applications such as saving energy during transport by using lighter nanomaterials or reducing the waste by designing products to be smaller.
Using green nanotechnology in the production process aims to make nanomaterials more environmentally friendly as well as using nanomaterials in order to make current processes involving chemicals less harmful. There are plenty of ways to do this such as using supercritical CO2, water, or ionic liquids to replace a volatile organic solvent. Another way to eradicate waste in the manufacturing process of nanomaterials is by implementing self-assembly or templating.
One of the simplest ways to create greener nanotechnology is by using renewable or non-toxic replacements of non-renewable starting materials. Furthermore, using techniques like microwaving, facile thermal and hydrothermal can aid the conservation of energy. Both catalytic and photocatalytic reactions are also able to increase the efficiency of the manufacturing process while also decreasing harmful byproducts. It should be noted that engineered nanomaterials are able to be used as catalysts in chemical processes. They can also be used as separation membranes.
However, many researchers are investigating the toxicity of nanomaterials. Nanosilver and its effects on the ecosystem are of particular interest as nanosilver can be absorbed by plants if found in the soil. According the US Environmental Protection Agency, this is difficult because the existing tests “may not work to test the safety of nanomaterials.” In addition to this “they [nanomaterials] have unique chemical properties, high reactivity, and do not dissolve in liquid”
Nanotechnology and green technology can work together to create a more environmentally friendly process and products. As the world becomes more ecologically aware, the use of green technology in the planning and design stage will become more prevalent in the industry. However, in order to create truly green products, the entire lifecycle must be considered and how nanotechnology affects all of this is still not known.
Grossman, E. (2016, January 14). Tiny materials, big questions: How green is nanotechnology? Retrieved from GreenBiz: https://www.greenbiz.com/article/tiny-materials-big-questions-how-green-nanotechnology
Karn, S. W. (n.d.). Ensuring sustainability with green nanotechnology. Retrieved from IOPScience: https://doi.org/10.1088/0957-4484/23/29/290201
United States Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Research on Nanomaterials. Retrieved from EPA: https://www.epa.gov/chemical-research/research-nanomaterials