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The commercial market for nanotechnology in the field of environment includes applications in:

  • Soil remediation
  • Air remediation
  • Water remediation
  • Sensors

Many companies identify themselves as being active in the area of nanotechnology. Where their product is generic with many applications in a wide range of sectors, one of which is environment, their product will often not appear as environment-specific. Here efforts have been made to identify only products that are environment-specific thereby increasing the relevance (but reducing the number) of products.

Soil remediation can be divided into three types of application: natural, incidental and engineered. Natural applications refer to the in situ use of nano-organic particles in remediation, such as bacteria. In incidental remediation the contaminated soil is removed and stored and / or treated ex situ. In engineered applications remediation is done in situ with the help of engineered nanomaterials. A further group of products contains the nanomaterials (or particles) used in soil remediation. Nano-organics and nanoclays are finding applications here. New materials include nano-wires of potassium manganese oxide used to clean up oil pollution while enabling the oil to be recovered.

Air remediation has its main applications in:

  • CO2 capture
  • NOx adsorption
  • Removal of VOCs from the air
  • Adsorption of dioxins

Relevant materials at the nano-scale include, but are not exclusively, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide (ZnO), tungsten oxide and ferrosoferric oxide (Fe3O4), carbon nanotubes and nanofibres. Products include photocatalytic coatings (e.g. for anti-fogging mirrors, self-cleaning ceramic tiles and pollution-controlling construction materials); catalytic converters (e.g. for vehicles); and air purification and filtration systems.

Water remediation covers ground water remediation, trace contaminant detection and surface water treatment. In terms of nanomaterials, the most important are carbon nanotubes (CNTs), titanium dioxide, zero-valent iron, calcium carbonate and iron oxide. Products include

  • Filtration systems based on nanoparticles
  • Nano-porous membranes
  • Water filtration based on carbon nanotubes
  • Nano-structured water desalination membranes
  • Water filtration using nano-composites

Sensors for environmental applications are largely based on nanoparticles or carbon nanotubes. For example, the sensing ‘electronic nose’ uses change in resistivity that are linearly related to the concentration of the various odorants enabling the analysis of complex mixtures, giving indication of their concentration at levels superior to that of the human nose. Chemical sensing technology integrating carbon nanotube sensing elements with CMOS technology on a silicon chip offer ultrahigh sensitivity in a small package and provide key cost and performance benefits vis-à-vis conventional chemical sensor technologies.

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