Green nanotechnology refers to the use of nanotechnology to enhance the environmental sustainability of processes producing negative externalities. It also refers to the use of the products of nanotechnology to enhance sustainability. It includes making green nano-products and using nano-products in support of sustainability.
Green nanotechnology has been described as the development of clean technologies, "to minimize potential environmental and human health risks associated with the manufacture and use of nanotechnology products, and to encourage replacement of existing products with new nano-products that are more environmentally friendly throughout their lifecycle."
Green nanotechnology has two goals: producing nanomaterials and products without harming the environment or human health, and producing nano-products that provide solutions to environmental problems. It uses existing principles of green chemistry and green engineering to make nanomaterials and nano-products without toxic ingredients, at low temperatures using less energy and renewable inputs wherever possible, and using lifecycle thinking in all design and engineering stages.
In addition to making nanomaterials and products with less impact to the environment, green nanotechnology also means using nanotechnology to make current manufacturing processes for non-nano materials and products more environmentally friendly. For example, nanoscale membranes can help separate desired chemical reaction products from waste materials. Nanoscale catalysts can make chemical reactions more efficient and less wasteful. Sensors at the nanoscale can form a part of process control systems, working with nano-enabled information systems. Using alternative energy systems, made possible by nanotechnology, is another way to "green" manufacturing processes.
The second goal of green nanotechnology involves developing products that benefit the environment either directly or indirectly. Nanomaterials or products directly can clean hazardous waste sites, desalinate water, treat pollutants, or sense and monitor environmental pollutants. Indirectly, lightweight nanocomposites for automobiles and other means of transportation could save fuel and reduce materials used for production; nanotechnology-enabled fuel cells and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) could reduce pollution from energy generation and help conserve fossil fuels; self-cleaning nanoscale surface coatings could reduce or eliminate many cleaning chemicals used in regular maintenance routines; and enhanced battery life could lead to less material use and less waste. Green Nanotechnology takes a broad systems view of nanomaterials and products, ensuring that unforeseen consequences are minimized and that impacts are anticipated throughout the full life cycle.
Research is underway to use nanomaterials for purposes including more efficient solar cells, practical fuel cells, and environmentally friendly batteries. The most advanced nanotechnology projects related to energy are: storage, conversion, manufacturing improvements by reducing materials and process rates, energy saving (by better thermal insulation for example), and enhanced renewable energy sources.
One major project that is being worked on is the development of nanotechnology in solar cells. Solar cells are more efficient as they get tinier and solar energy is a renewable resource. The price per watt of solar energy is lower than one dollar.
Research is ongoing to use nanowires and other nanostructured materials with the hope of to create cheaper and more efficient solar cells than are possible with conventional planar silicon solar cells. Another example is the use of fuel cells powered by hydrogen, potentially using a catalyst consisting of carbon supported noble metal particles with diameters of 1-5 nm. Materials with small nanosized pores may be suitable for hydrogen storage. Nanotechnology may also find applications in batteries, where the use of nanomaterials may enable batteries with higher energy content or supercapacitors with a higher rate of recharging.
Nanotechnology is already used to provide improved performance coatings for photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal panels. Hydrophobic and self-cleaning properties combine to create more efficient solar panels, especially during inclement weather. PV covered with nanotechnology coatings are said to stay cleaner for longer to ensure maximum energy efficiency is maintained.
Nanotechnology offers the potential of novel nanomaterials for the treatment of surface water, groundwater, wastewater, and other environmental materials contaminated by toxic metal ions, organic and inorganic solutes, and microorganisms. Due to their unique activity toward recalcitrant contaminants, many nanomaterials are under active research and development for use in the treatment of water and contaminated sites.
The present market of nanotech-based technologies applied in water treatment consists of reverse osmosis, nanofiltration, ultrafiltration membranes. Indeed, among emerging products one can name nanofiber filters, carbon nanotubes and various nanoparticles. Nanotechnology is expected to deal more efficiently with contaminants which convectional water treatment systems struggle to treat, including bacteria, viruses and heavy metals. This efficiency generally stems from the very high specific surface area of nanomaterials which increases dissolution, reactivity and sorption of contaminants.
Some potential applications include:
Nanoremediation is the use of nanoparticles for environmental remediation. Nanoremediation has been most widely used for groundwater treatment, with additional extensive research in wastewater treatment. Nanoremediation has also been tested for soil and sediment cleanup. Even more preliminary research is exploring the use of nanoparticles to remove toxic materials from gases.
Some nanoremediation methods, particularly the use of nano zero-valent iron for groundwater cleanup, have been deployed at full-scale cleanup sites. Nanoremediation is an emerging industry; by 2009, nanoremediation technologies had been documented in at least 44 cleanup sites around the world, predominantly in the United States. During nanoremediation, a nanoparticle agent must be brought into contact with the target contaminant under conditions that allow a detoxifying or immobilizing reaction. This process typically involves a pump-and-treat process or in situ application. Other methods remain in research phases.
Scientists have been researching the capabilities of buckminsterfullerene in controlling pollution, as it may be able to control certain chemical reactions. Buckminsterfullerene has been demonstrated as having the ability of inducing the protection of reactive oxygen species and causing lipid peroxidation. This material may allow for hydrogen fuel to be more accessible to consumers.
In 2017 the RingwooditE Co Ltd was formed in order to explore Thermonuclear Trap Technology (TTT) for the purpose of cleaning all sources of water from pollution and toxic contents. This patented nanotechnology uses a high pressure and temperature chamber to separate isotopes that should by nature not be in drinking water to pure drinking water, as to the by the WHO´s established classification. This methode has been developed by among others, by professor Vladimir Afanasiew, at the Moscow Nuclear Institution. This technology is targeted to clean Sea, river, lake and landfill weist waters. It even removes radioactive isothopes from the sea water, after Nuclear Power Stations catastrophes and cooling water plant towers. By this technology pharmaca rests are being removed as well as narcotics and tranquilizers. Bottom layers and sides at lake and rivers can be returned, after being cleaned. Machinery used for this purpose are much similar to those of deep sea mining. Removed waste items are being sorted by the process, and can be re used as raw material for other industrial production.
Nanofiltration is a relatively recent membrane filtration process used most often with low total dissolved solids water such as surface water and fresh groundwater, with the purpose of softening (polyvalent cation removal) and removal of disinfection by-product precursors such as natural organic matter and synthetic organic matter. Nanofiltration is also becoming more widely used in food processing applications such as dairy, for simultaneous concentration and partial (monovalent ion) demineralisation.
Nanofiltration is a membrane filtration based method that uses nanometer sized cylindrical through-pores that pass through the membrane at a 90°. Nanofiltration membranes have pore sizes from 1-10 Angstrom, smaller than that used in microfiltration and ultrafiltration, but just larger than that in reverse osmosis. Membranes used are predominantly created from polymer thin films. Materials that are commonly used include polyethylene terephthalate or metals such as aluminum. Pore dimensions are controlled by pH, temperature and time during development with pore densities ranging from 1 to 106 pores per cm2. Membranes made from polyethylene terephthalate and other similar materials, are referred to as "track-etch" membranes, named after the way the pores on the membranes are made. "Tracking" involves bombarding the polymer thin film with high energy particles. This results in making tracks that are chemically developed into the membrane, or "etched" into the membrane, which are the pores. Membranes created from metal such as alumina membranes, are made by electrochemically growing a thin layer of aluminum oxide from aluminum metal in an acidic medium.
Some water-treatment devices incorporating nanotechnology are already on the market, with more in development. Low-cost nanostructured separation membranes methods have been shown to be effective in producing potable water in a recent study.