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The commercial applications of nanotechnology in the field of transport include: nanotubes and particles (e.g. for use in capacitors and batteries), nano-porous materials (e.g. for use in fuel cells), thin films and coatings (for multiple transport applications), and nanocomposites (e.g. for use in vehicle parts).

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 transport, their product will often not appear as transport-specific. Here efforts have been made to identify products that are clearly designated as being used in transport thereby omitting products with unspecified sectoral application areas, increasing the relevance of the products while reducing the total number. Products that are identified as for use in transport applications may also be used in other sectors e.g. energy or ICT.

The main areas where nanotechnology is (or may be) applied in the field of transport include the following current or future applications:

  • Nanomaterials
    • Nano-tubes and nano-particles (e.g. in components, capacitors and batteries)
    • Nano-porous materials (e.g. for use in fuel cells)
    • Nano-composites (e.g. for vehicle parts)
  • Nano-thin films and nano-coatings (e.g. to protect from dirt and wear)
  • Nanotechnology in lighting and displays (e.g. organic LEDs[1] (OLEDs)
  • Nano-sensors
  • Nano-fluids and additives (e.g. in fuels)
  • Nano-filters (e.g. in exhaust systems)
  • Nanotechnology for energy usage and storage (e.g. lithium ion batteries)

Nanotechnology draws on other sectors for applications to transport, sectors such as manufacturing, photonics, ICT and energy. For example, the uses of ICT in the transport sector (now and in the future) include:

  • Assisted driving systems for economical driving (for fuel efficiency, etc.)
  • Distance and speed regulation (safety systems)
  • Warning systems (e.g. obstacles avoidance systems)
  • Autonomous driving (driverless vehicles)
  • Advanced positioning and communication systems
  • Improved logistics management

The table below shows some key examples of application areas for nanotechnology in transport.

  Vehicles Infrastructure
Nano materials Bodies Nano-modified asphalt
Tyres
Engine components Nano-modified cement
Nano-coatings Anti-fouling Anti-glare coatings on surfaces
Anti-glare coating for windows
De-icing coating
Protective coating for textiles Anti-graffiti coating for walls (e.g. on tunnels)
Anti-corrosion coating
Nano-enabled OLED[2] Lighting panels  
Displays on dashboard  
Nano-sensors Monitoring soot emission Monitoring condition infrastructure
Monitoring condition vehicle components Intelligent transportation systems
Monitoring
Nano-fluids and lubricants Coolants  
Lubricants  
Fuel additives  
Cleaners  
Nano-filters Diesel particulate filters  
Air filters  
Nano- enhanced energy storage Lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles (EV)  
Super-capacitors  
Hydrogen storage (fuel cell electric vehicles)  
Solar capture (photovoltaics)  

Nanotechnology can have an impact on many different parts of a vehicle including:

  • the structure and interior of the vehicle
  • the engine and the fuel systems
  • external surfaces
  • lighting

Not only is nanotechnology being applied in improving the materials used in transport, it can also have an impact on the manufacturing process itself. The application of nanotechnology in photonics can enhance the laser techniques used in the manufacturing process, especially in the automotive industry.

However, the greatest progress in new nanomaterials and manufacturing techniques has been made over the years, and is still being made, in aerospace. Different (nano)materials have been integrated into components (for example, the wings) in order to reduce weight and save energy. They are also contributing to enhanced safety such as fire-resistance. Many of the applications in aerospace and aviation are later applied to lower cost areas such as ground vehicles.

[1] light-emitting diodes

[2] Organic light-emitting diodes

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