Today we are faced with serious environmental challenges, such as threats to clean air and drinking water and to healthy soils. Nanomaterials show great promise for applications in air and water treatment to more effectively reduce pollution. What benefits do they already bring to society, and what can we expect from developments in the future?

There are several ways in which nanomaterials and nanotechnology can help us address and provide solutions to some of the global environmental challenges that we face. Some of these technologies already exist, while others are still being developed.

Existing applications include:

  • remediation of water contaminated by heavy metals;
  • removal of pollutants from car engine exhausts through the use of high surface area nanomaterials in catalytic converters;
  • the use of nanomaterial-based fuel additives to improve fuel combustion efficiency
  • clean-up of oil spills;
  • reduction of emissions and fuel consumption through the use of lighter nanotechnology-based materials;
  • self-cleaning surfaces with a capacity to break down pollutants.

Nanomaterials and nanotechnology can also play a role in the generation and storage of clean energy, potentially reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Nanomaterials can be used to improve the efficiency of solar panels and in the manufacture of high capacity batteries that facilitate electricity storage, and allow for the manufacture of electric cars with longer driving ranges.

As with all new materials and technologies, there are potential hazards and risks that need to be studied and assessed to enable our society to take advantage of the benefits of nanomaterials while reducing any potential harm to human health and the environment.