By: Carolyn Yow; Taft Academy
To those who acknowledge global warming as a pressing issue, are you consoled that scientists and engineers have developed numerous alternatives (i.e. solar panel, bioplastic, and rechargeable batteries) to the less sustainable options which accelerate the planet’s demise such as fossil fuels, styrofoam, and disposable products? Despite not yet achieving the zenith of environmentalism, our society has discovered and invented renewable energy sources and technologies which salvage environmental disasters and undoubtedly enhance the environmental-friendliness of our world. However, the existence of technologies which alleviate our environmental crisis is not enough to satisfy or convince the public. Consumers — from homeowners to corporations and even governments — often question the efficiency and investment yield of green technologies; therefore, while there are still fundings for innovative technologies, more attention is given to incorporating existing technologies with nanotechnology, a technology which refines productivity to the atomic level and provides a more affordable alternative to conventional materials.
It has only been fifty-eight years since what is known as the first lecture on nanotechnology given by Richard Feynman of the California Institute of Technology. That being said, the field of nanotechnology is still relatively new, nanotechnology used most prevalently in the medical, electronics, and cosmetics industries. Nevertheless, many ongoing experiments use nanotechnology for waste management, and even environmental remediation — collectively identified as ‘green nanotechnology’.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s nano-spike catalysts are arguably one of the most outstanding green discoveries in the recent years. The nano-spike catalysts are able to convert carbon dioxide, a devastating pollutant which traps heat in the atmosphere, into ethanol, a liquid fuel. This ability can be attributed to the faculty of the copper nanoparticles positioned in carbon spikes. Through utilizing nanotechnology, scientists can not only control reactions with more accuracy, but also lower the costs of the substance needed to be bought by replacing rare metals with inexpensive copper. The nano-spike method is still in its early stages of development, but scientists anticipate for its integration into renewable energy generators such as wind turbines and solar panels. Nanotechnology can be manipulated into storing the excess energy produced by the energy generators by converting this excess energy into liquid fuel.
As mentioned, experiments with regards to nanotechnology are conducted with aims to effectively resolve environmental calamities. An oil spill is undoubtedly one of the most devastating environmental calamities; not only do oil spills cause havoc to marine and coastal ecosystems, but it also may disrupt life on land by contaminating water used in farms, further increasing our risk of different levels of poisoning. Thankfully, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have devised a method of employing nanoparticles and magnets to clean up oil spills — by fusing the water-oil solution with nanoparticles, allowing nanoparticles to be attached to the oil, and then using magnets to separate the nanoparticles and oil from water. This method prevails over other existing methods because it permits the recovery of spilled oil for use, compensating for the cost of the oil spill clean-up. The science behind this practice is still under review by experts, with the largest concern being the possible contamination of marine life. Nonetheless, the future of nanotechnology remains promising. Similar to that of oil spill control, researchers from the University of Bath have employed nanotechnology in pollution control by developing nano-porous fibers which are able to filter pollutants such as carbon dioxide. An extended step of this technology is to recycle the collected pollutants back into the resource production and consumption process, lowering the energy consumption of the overall system.
Nanotechnology has an abundance of potential for future use, a statement evident in its influence over various industries over the years. Specifically, with green nanotechnology, more scientists and researchers have geared their inventions towards incorporating the practical and effective use of nanoparticles. Concerns over this recently introduced field mostly regard the control of the nanoparticles because the particles are invisible to the human eye and any damage done by these nanoparticles can easily go undetected until too late once the devastation has already occurred. Therefore, more time has to be allotted in order for the field of green nanotechnology to expand, and for us to discern its impact.
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