Properties, Applications, Research, and Safety Guidelines

32.4 (A)/00.023

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What is Nanotechnology?

Nanoscale SEM of Fuel Cell Cathode and Electrolyte layers made from American Elements SOFC materialsNanotechnology is a catch-all phrase for materials and devices that operate at the nanoscale. In the metric system of measurement, "Nano" equals a billionth; therefore a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. References to nano materials, nanoelectronics, nano devices, nanofabrics, nanogels and nanopowders simply mean the material or activity can be measured in nanometers. To appreciate the size, a human red blood cell is over 2,000 nanometers long, virtually outside the nanoscale range.

Recently, government and private institutions have devoted substantial research into finding potential valuable uses at this scale, as discussed below.

Where does the phrase Nanotechnology come from?

The scientific community generally attributes the first acknowledgement of the importance of the nanoscale range to the brilliant Nobel Laureate physicist Richard Feynman in his famous 1959 lecture "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" in which he first proposed that the properties of materials and devices at the nanometer range would present future opportunities. The term reached greater public awareness in 1986 with the publication of "Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology" by Eric Drexler.

How are nanotechnologies used today?

Despite any former views that nanotechnology is a far-fetched idea with no near-term applications, nanoparticles, nanopowders and nanotubes already play a significant role in industry, environmental remediation, medicine, science and even in the household. A video on interesting new applications using nanoscale materials can also be watched on the PBS NOVA series “Making Stuff: Smaller”. The majority of nanotechnologies commercially used today are based on such nano-sized particles.

X-ray diffraction analysis of nanoclay at American Elements U.S. laboratoryRare earth nanoparticles and rare earth oxide nanopowders are finding application in uses as varied as enhanced fiber optic amplification (EDFA) to the removal of phosphate in the blood of patients with Hyperphosphatemia. Iron Nanoparticles, Iron Oxide Nanopowder, Cobalt Nanoparticles, and several other elemental nanoparticles and alloys form a group of "Magnetic Nanoparticles" with promising application in medical treatment of cancer, magnetic storage and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Carbon nanotubes are single-walled, double walled and multi-walled black nanoscale cylindrical tubes of graphitic carbon with numerous applications. Carbon nanotubes are the stiffest and strongest known fibers and have unique electrical properties. When used as reinforcement fibers, carbon nanotubes can improve the quality and properties of metal, polymer and ceramics. Applications for AE Carbon Nanotubes™ include in flat screen displays, scanning probe microscopes in brushes for commercial electric motors, and in sensing devices. When combined with Aluminum, Copper, Magnesium, Nickel, Titanium, and Tin, single-walled carbon nanotube materials reveal enhanced tensile strength, hardness and characteristics; because of their strength, carbon nanotubes are used in numerous aerospace and automotive capacities, in the fabrication of body armor and tear-resistant cloths, and as an advanced material for stronger and lighter sports equipment. Carbon nanotubes can behave like a conductive metallic or semiconductor depending on their structure, which is useful for nanoscale electronic devices and in electrically conductive films in coatings, plastics, nanowire, nanofiber and in certain bioscience applications. Recently, carbon nanotubes have been demonstrated to create the "darkest" known material absorbing all wavelengths or "colors" of light which will prove useful in solar and electronic applications.

Advances in carbon nanotube technologies are driving the generation of a new class of materials that cross the biomedical, textiles and electronics industries. From clothing to artificial muscles, it appears there is no end to the applications for this new generation of "smart" materials. Carbon nanotubes have the potential to radically change electronics and are among the most likely candidates for miniaturising electronic components beyond the micro-scale.

Titanium/carbon nanotube composites demonstrate a considerable increase in tensile stress, hardness and yield stress. in an additional study, when compared to pure titanium, titanium/carbon nanotube composites displayed increased property hardness of the metal as well as improved elastic modulus.

Graphene is a flat one-atom thick sheet of sp2 carbon atoms densely packed in a honeycomb crystal lattice structure. It is the basic structural element for graphite, carbon nanotubes, and fullerenes. Graphene samples are available as nanoflakes on Si/SiO2 substrate wafers. Each layer is monoatomically thin with a thickness of ~0.34nm, though it is possible to produce multi-layered flakes. Graphene sample under SEMUsing microscopic imagery, one can easily find the flakes and process them using microelectronic fabrications techniques.

Graphene is the first example of truly two-dimensional crystals, giving it novel electronic and mechanical properties. Because of its high electronic mobility, structural flexibility, and capability of being tuned from p-type to n-type doping by the application of a gate voltage, graphene is considered a potential breakthrough in terms of carbon-based nano-electronics. Research into applications for carbon graphene nanosheets has focused on uses as platforms for next-wave microchips, active materials in field emitter arrays for flat panel screen displays, in biological sensors and medical imaging devices, in solar energy cells, and in high-surface area electrodes for use in bio-science. Graphene is a possible replacement material where carbon nanotubes are presently used.

SEM of Nickel nanoparticles as high surface area supra-micron macroparticles
Nanoscale gas path and electronically conductive bridging structures made from American Elements’ advanced ceramic materials

Surface-functionalized nanoparticles such as Dodecanethiol Functionalized Gold Nanoparticles have controlled surface chemistries which can provide novel methods to change the adhesion (wetting) properties of the particles, re-order their interfacial region or enhance the dispersion properties of the nanopowder in polymers, plastics and coatings for improved magnetic, fluorescent, dielectric, and catalytic properties. Surface Functionalized Nanoparticles have particular application in LEDs, drug delivery systems, sensors and electronics.

Silicon nanoparticles have been shown to dramatically expand the storage capacity of lithium ion batteries without degrading the silicon during the expansion/contraction cycle that occurs as power is charged and discharged. Silicon has long been known to have an excellent affinity for storage of positively charged lithium cations making them ideal candidates for next generation lithium ion batteries. However, the quick degradation of silicon storage units has made them commercially unfeasible for most applications. Silicon nanowires, however, cycle without significant degradation and present the potential for use in batteries with greatly expanded storage times.

Carbon Nanohorns provide a unique combination of strength, electrical conductivity, high surface area and open gas paths, making them an ideal next generation electrode for various fuel cell applications.

Nanotechnology is playing an increasing role in solving the world energy crisis. Platinum nanoparticles produced and marketed under the trade name P-MITE™ are ideal candidates as a novel technology for low platinum automotive catalysts and for single-nanotechnology research. Lanthanum nanoparticles, cerium nanoparticles, strontium carbonate nanoparticles, manganese nanoparticles, manganese oxide nanopowder, nickel oxide nanopowder and several other nanomaterials are finding application in the development of small cost-effective solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs). Platinum nanoparticles are being used to develop small proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEM). Lithium nanoparticles, lithium titanate nanoparticles, and tantalum nanoparticles will be found in next generation lithium ion batteries. Ultra high purity silicon nanoparticles are being used in new forms of solar energy cells. Thin film deposition of silicon quantum dots on the polycrystalline silicon substrate of a photovoltaic (solar) cell increases voltage output as much as 60% by fluorescing the incoming light prior to capture.

By narrowly controlling the particles distribution (PSD) of quantum dot nanocrystals to within 10 nanometers, discreet colors with long term photostability can be emitted with wave lengths representing the entire visible spectra. This ability has found application in fluorescent biomarkers and dyes for live cell imaging and antibody conjugates. Additionally, prior to quantum dots, light emitting semiconductors, such as light emitting diodes (LED), could not emit white light. With the development of quantum dots with particle size distributions less than 500 nanometers (nm), LED emissions in the blue range can be achieved which may allow for the commercial use of solid state semiconductors to generate luminescent light.

American Elements' 20nm Z-MITE™ nanopowder used to form ultra high surface area supra-micron macroparticles

Nanoscale Z-MITE™ ZnO is being used for its UV absorbing properties to create transparent sunscreen. The particles' small size makes them invisible to the naked eye, so the lotion is clear. At American Elements, we produce nanoscale oxides for a wide variety of applications. For detailed product information on the uses and applications of Z-MITE™, see the Z-MITE™ Product Data Sheet. Z-MITE™ Zinc Oxide nanoparticles, zinc nanoparticles and silver nanoparticles are used for many applications, including as an anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, anti-biotic and anti-fungal agents when incorporated in coatings, fibers, polymers, first aid bandages, plastics, soap and textiles.

Like carbon nanotubes, silicon dioxide nanoparticles, silicon nanoparticles, copper nanoparticles, copper oxide nanoparticles, indium nanoparticles and many others are either electrically superconductive, conductive, or semiconductive particles with far reaching potential in electronics, high speed computing, telecommunication and space travel. Silicon nanotubes and nanocomposites such as boron carbide nanoparticles, silicon carbide nanoparticles and titanium carbide nanopaorticles are also seeing commercial use due their great strength. Plastic nanocomposites are used for strong, lighter, and rust-proof car components. Toyota recently began using nanocomposites in bumpers that makes them 60% lighter and twice as resistant to denting and scratching.

For a given amount of material, as particle size decreases, surface area increases. American Elements nanoscale cerium oxide nanoparticles, platinum nanoparticles, gold nanoparticles, palladium nanoparticles, molybdenum nanoparticles, nickel nanoparticles and iridium nanoparticles have extremely high surface areas which make them idea catalysts for a whole host of chemical synthesis, chemical treatment and chemical cracking applications, including automotive catalytic converters, where surface areas on our materials can reach over 200 m2/g.

Organo-Metallic Packaging, Lab Quantity The biomedical and bioscience fields have found near limitless uses for nanoparticles. Nanoparticles made of peroxalate ester polymers with a fluorescent dye (pentacene) encapsulated into the polymer have been found to be capable of detecting cancer due to the fact that hydrogen peroxide generated by pre-cancerous human . The dye in the nanoparticles fluoresces when they come in contact with the hydrogen peroxide, which can then be detected as light on medical imaging equipment. When bound to organic molecules, gold and silver nanoparticles are also proving particularly effective in delivering pharmaceutical drugs to the bodies of cancer patients. Artificial bone composites are now being manufactured from calcium phosphate nanocrystals. These composites are made of the same mineral as natural bone, yet have strength in compression equal to stainless steel. Tungsten oxide nanoparticles are being used in dental imaging because they are sufficiently radiopaque (impervious to radiation) for high quality X-ray resolution. The group of magnetic nanoparticles discussed above is being used to both kill cancer cells in malignant tumors and in MRI medical imaging. Coating tungsten particles with DNA and injecting them into plant cells or plant embryos allows for the transformation of plant plastids with lower transformation efficiency than in agro bacterial mediated transformation. The anti-bacterial and anti-microbial effects of many nanoparticles such as silver are well understood technology. Fluorescent nanoparticles are being used by biologists to stain and label cellular components. By changing the size of the quantum dot the color emitted can be controlled. With a single light source, one can see the entire range of visible colors, an advantage over traditional organic dyes.

Nanotechnology is becoming utilized increasingly more in green technology and environmental applications. Certain nanomaterials serve as effective products for environmental clean up. For example, nickel nanocrystals are a reagent for the dehalogenation of trichloroethylene (TCE) , a common groundwater environmental remediation contaminant. A team of researchers from Singapore and the United States developed a lightweight, porous gel embedded with silver nanoparticles that effectively kills bacteria in tainted water, leaving it purified and potable. Introducing disorder into the crystal structure of titanium dioxide nanoparticles changes their color ro black, allowing them to absorb an expanded spectrum of light that engineers could harness to in hydrogen-producing solar cells.

What are the safety, hazard and public policy issues with nanotechnology?

Numerous articles have been published warning of the dangers presented by unregulated nanotechnologies, the most fantastic of which is the threat of "Gray Goo," a hypothesized substance resulting from the runaway dissolution of the earth by self-replicating nanobots. While many of these concerns seem less science than science fiction, the very scale range of these materials do present safety and environmental issues that should be addressed responsibly by industry at least in the same manner as fine particulate materials are currently handled under existing health and safety guidelines.

What is the future of nanotechnology?

Building A of Plant--LaboratoryNanotechnology is expected to have an impact on nearly every industry. The U.S. National Science Foundation has predicted that the global market for nanotechnologies will reach $1 trillion or more within 20 years. The research community is actively pursuing hundreds of applications in nanomaterials, nanoelectronics, and bionanotechnology. Most current developments in nanotechnology are in the shape and composition of nanomaterials themselves. Researchers are beginning to understand how to assemble complicated nanostructures and accurately predict their behavior, in addition to experimenting with composites of multiple nanomaterials (like graphene and graphene oxide) and fabricating nanoscale structures of materials never created at that size before. Advanced nanodevices and nanoelectronics that utilize these materials are on the horizon, such as nanorobot drug delivery systems, faster computers, and in sensors.

American Elements is actively involved in pursuing promising research to develop equipment and procedures to manipulate single atoms or molecules with the goal of establishing a new class of man-made atomic structures constructed one molecule at a time. In addition, we support the industrial and academic research efforts by supplying the ultra-pure, advanced materials required to perform nanotechnology research.

American Elements Nanotechnology Products:

Recent Research & Development in Nanotechnology

  • Bernard Courtois, Special Section NANOTECH 2013, Microelectronics Journal, Volume 45, Issue 7, July 2014
  • Indu Pal Kaur, Vandita Kakkar, Parneet Kaur Deol, Monika Yadav, Mandeep Singh, Ikksheta Sharma, Issues and concerns in nanotech product development and its commercialization, Journal of Controlled Release, Available online 14 June 2014
  • Catherine Brahic, ‘Iron Man’ plants are supercharged by nanotech power, New Scientist, Volume 221, Issue 2961, 22 March 2014
  • Paul Marks, Interplanetary comms just got easier with a nanotech boost, New Scientist, Volume 221, Issue 2957, 22 February 2014
  • Alan Skull, Investments, products for men, nanotech and the environment, Focus on Surfactants, Volume 2014, Issue 2, February 2014
  • , Industrial Nanotech Inc begins supplying cruise line industry with solutions for insulation, corrosion and mold resistance, Focus on Powder Coatings, Volume 2013
  • , Special Section NANOTECH 2012, Microelectronics Journal, Volume 44, Issue 7, July 2013
  • , Industrial Nanotech Inc issues update, Focus on Powder Coatings, Volume 2013, Issue 1, January 2013
  • Bernard Courtois, Special section NANOTECH 2011, Microelectronics Journal, Volume 43, Issue 5, May 2012
  • David Bradley, A nanotech fairytale: Nanotechnology, Materials Today, Volume 14, Issue 12, December 2011

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