A nanomaterial is a substance that measure less than 100 nanometres in any single dimension. In other words, the material measures less than one thousandth the thickness of a sheet of paper.
At this scale, materials do not function in the same way as they do in the macroworld. Because of this, nanomaterials are changing the world.
Three Advantages of a Material at a Nanoscale
1. The first advantage of nanomaterials is that they can take on different properties.
As Sharon M. Mott of the Yale National Initiative, explains, “Electrons cannot move about as freely at the nanoscale and become restricted. The confinement of the electrons causes them to react to light differently. Gold for example will appear gold at the macro scale in bulk form. However, when it occurs as nanosized particles its color is red. Nanosized zinc oxide particles will not scatter visible light, which causes sun block to appear transparent. Large zinc oxide particles used for sun block scatter visible light and appear white.”
But it is not just light that is affected.
“Electrical properties can change at the nanoscale,” says Mott. “Some materials that are conductors in bulk form may become semiconductors or poor conductors at the nanoscale. Some materials that were semiconductors may become conductors or superconductors. The confinement of electrons results in the electrical properties that occur at the nanoscale.”
Beyond light and electricity, all manner of other properties can be changed in a substance. In this way, materials can be made stronger, lighter, more flexible, magnetic, thermally conductive, brittle, and more.
2. Nanomaterials’ small size gives them a larger surface area allowing for more reaction space.
In layman’s terms, this means that a lump of coal may take a long time to burn, as it is one large mass of carbon. If the coal is ground down into a powder, it will burn much quicker, as the powder has more reaction surface area.
It is for this reason that many household products and raw materials come in powder form.
Taking this logic one step further, a material that is made into a nanoscale powder has an even larger surface area, and so can become even more potent and effective.
3. The minute dimensions of nanomaterials allows them to interact in different ways with other materials.
In doing so, they can pass on specific properties to a larger mass. For example, by adding carbon nanotubes to a rubber compound mix, the rubber used for car tyres can be made stronger and more durable. They can also add electroconductivity which is needed in tyres.
As a bonus, they are lighter than the carbon black raw material that they replace, and so make for a lighter, more fuel-efficient tyre.
Knowing that nanomaterials can have such special properties or can influence other bulk materials to obtain sought after abilities, such as added strength or electrical conductivity, has given them plenty of applications in manufacturing and industry.
Already, nanomaterials are used in glass production, to make coatings, paints, and resins, in countless amounts of plastic, in the manufacture of batteries, electronics, and solar panels. They are used in computers and telecommunication devices, in composites to make cars, planes, ships, satellites, spacecraft, trains, bicycles, sports equipment, and military hardware.
They are also widely used in construction materials, such as concrete, adhesives, and foams. They are used to make sun cream and in electronic sensors. They are also used in the textile industry to make fabrics and dyes. They have a variety of uses in the pharmaceutical industry, where they are used for slow drug release, delayed drug release, and focused drug release. They are used in animal feed, fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. They are also used to make rubbers and have uses in the chemical industry as chemical catalysts and membranes.
Meanwhile, as nanotechnology researchers continue to study a scientific field that is only 30 years old, hundreds of new applications for nanomaterials are being discovered every year.
It is a branch of material science that is changing the world, making the impossible possible, and revolutionising the production of raw materials.
If you would like to know more about this expanding side of the raw material sector, then read: Why Use Nanoparticles as a Raw Material in Epoxy Resins? or The Case for Investing in the Nanotechnology Industry.