Nanocomposites are a class of nanomaterials, where one or more nanostructured materials (organic/inorganic) are incorporated in metal, polymer, or ceramic to obtain a new material with many unique properties. Nanocomposites are applied in various branches of science and different industries, such as target drug delivery, imaging, agriculture, sensors, batteries, artificial implants, and aircraft. Advancements and continual research in nanotechnology promise the development of more potential nanocomposites with varied useful applications.
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Some examples of nanocomposite components include nanofibers, nanorods, nanoparticles, and carbon nanotubes. One of the important features of nanocomposite is that it exhibits synergistic properties that are not present in the individual components. Typically, nanocomposites possess multifunctional properties, such as high mechanical strength, high electrical conductivity, and enhanced optical properties. They also have a high surface-to-volume ratio for the loading of biomolecules.
Experts have indicated that the global nano market would be driven by the increase in the use of nanocomposites, particularly in industries like packaging, aerospace, energy, automotive, electronics, and many others. This article discusses some of the recent innovations in nanocomposites and provides an overview of future applications.
Nanocomposites and Aircrafts
Recently, Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, in collaboration with an aerospace company, AIM Altitude, has developed a nanocomposite suitable for aircraft interiors based on poly(furfuryl alcohol) (PFA) which has been developed using renewable and bio-based sources.
This new nanocomposite has exhibited good fire resistance and mechanical performance. Additionally, this material has increased peel strength property, which enhances the durability and integrity of the product significantly.
Previously studies have indicated that nanocomposites have helped in the production of corrosion-resistant and lightweight components without compromising on the reliability and durability of aircraft-associated products.
Some nanocomposites, such as MgB2, multi-walled carbon nanotubes, and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene/montmorillonite, are used in aircraft because of their superior durability, mechanical strength, flame retardancy, chemical resistance, and thermal stability.
Nanocomposite coatings protect the spacecraft structures from the harsh climate of the space environment.
Bionanocomposite for Replacing Plastic Packaging Material
Bionanocomposite has been developed using biopolymers like chitosan, carboxymethyl cellulose, and starch, along with nanomaterials that have the potential to resolve a major environmental hazard: the overuse of non-biodegradable plastics.
The biopolymer makes the nanocomposite biodegradable and non-toxic, while the nanomaterials impart thermal, mechanical, and gas barrier properties. Bionanocomposites are also light in weight which enhances their applicability.
In the development of novel bionanocomposites, the compatibility between the polymer matrix and nanomaterial is the most challenging aspect.
Packaging materials utilizing this nanomaterial have antibacterial activity, biodegradability, thermal stability, and mechanical strength, indicating their potential to be an alternative to plastic packaging.
This type of smart packaging could be extremely beneficial in the food industry. Polylactic acid/ clay nanocomposite resemble conventional plastics, with better tensile, mechanical, and thermal properties.
Nanocomposites and Sensors
Researchers have developed several nanocomposite-based enzyme sensors for the detection of various metabolites. For instance, graphene–chitosan nanocomposite electrodes have been developed as an enzyme sensor to detect glucose over a wider detection range of 0.08–12 mM and greater sensitivity.
Another nanocomposite, cadmium sulfide nanocrystals embedded carbon nanotube-based nanocomposite, has been used to create an enzymatic biosensor to detect choline and acetylcholine. Scientists have also developed metallic nanocomposites for the detection of phenolic compounds.
Nanocomposites have also been recently found to be effective for repairing impairments in bones and soft tissues in bones because of their potential to increase osteointegration and osteoinductivity. This effect is also helpful in repairing soft tissues in the bone.
Nano-hydroxyapatite/poly(lactide) has revealed the capacity to enable suitable cell attachment to human cartilage.
Nanocomposite Membranes for Sustainable Water Purification
Membrane technology is a reliable and robust solution for producing freshwater through sustainable desalination. However, one of the problems that limit the performance of this technology is membrane biofouling.
Nanotechnology has helped develop anti-biofouling membranes by incorporating nanoparticles within the polyamide layer to produce a thin-film nanocomposite (TFN) structure.
Electronics and Polymer Nanocomposites
Polymers play a crucial role in modern electronic devices. Recently, polymer nanocomposites have attracted huge attention from different scientific disciplines for their virtuous processability and exceptional functionalities.
One of the most important properties of this nanocomposite is electrical conductance, which is applied in the development of many novel sensitive sensors to detect important physical parameters, such as strain or stress, pressure, temperature, solvent, or vapor.
For the development of non-volatile memory devices, hybrid nanocomposites have shown extraordinary performing capability with simple fabrication, high-mechanical flexibility while being inexpensive.
To fulfill the growing demand for food, owing to the continual population growth, farmers use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to enhance the crop yield and prevent it from pathogenic infestation. However, these chemicals have detrimental effects on the soil and underground water source. Furthermore, many of the chemicals have been reported as carcinogenic.
Scientists have revealed that nanocomposites play an important role in promoting sustainable agriculture by providing protection as well as increasing crop yield.
Continue reading: An Overview of Gold Thin Films: From Sensors to Cell Culture.
References and Future Reading
Pang, L. et al. (2021) Antibiofouling Thin-Film Nanocomposite Membranes for Sustainable Water Purification. Advanced Sustainable Systems. 5(6). 2000279. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1002/adsu.202000279
Kumar, A. et al. (2021) Smart nanomaterial and nanocomposite with advanced agrochemical activities. Nanoscale Research Letters. 16, 156. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1186/s11671-021-03612-0
Bhat, A. et al. (2021) Review on nanocomposites based on aerospace applications. Nanotechnology Reviews. 10 (1). pp. 237-253. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1515/ntrev-2021-0018
Shukla, P. and Saxena, P. (2021) Polymer Nanocomposites in Sensor Applications: A Review on Present Trends and Future Scope. Chinese Journal of Polymer Science. 39, pp.665–691. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10118-021-2553-8
Shukla, V. et al. (2019) Chapter 13 - Role of Nanocomposites in Future Nanoelectronic Information Storage Devices. Nanoelectronics. Devices, Circuits and Systems Advanced Nanomaterials. pp. 399-431. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-813353-8.00011-7