Solving problems with nanotechnology

One of the most pressing of these problems, in the face of dwindling global oil and gas reserves, is the search to find better ways to supply the world population with energy – and with the least impact to our planet. It is becoming ever more apparent that we will only be able to do this by making better use of renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Nanotechnology is helping to bring about this transformational leap to a new era of sustainable energy. For example, it enables photovoltaic cells to be built in new ways and with better materials so that they may be produced more cheaply and generate electricity from the sun’s light more efficiently. Batteries play a key role in sustainable energy, and here too, nanotechnology is enabling breakthroughs in performance and energy density, particularly in lithium ion batteries for electric and hybrid cars as well as hydrogen storage units. Finally, nanotechnology can help us find important new ways to conserve energy, such as with optimized insulation materials.

Alongside the search for sustainable energy, another great global challenge has been making more and more headlines as it becomes ever more acute in many parts of the world: the thirst for clean water. Nanotechnology is providing innovative new solutions with optimized filters which can remove chemicals and carcinogens from water with unprecedented efficiency. While water supply is one of our most pressing issues, nanotechnology also opens new and cost-effective opportunities to keep our air and soil clean as well. For example, catalytic converters optimized with the help of nanotechnology mean more efficient processes in the chemical industries which produce less waste, and nanostructured membranes can more efficiently filter pollutants from air.

Around the world, the need for better, cheaper healthcare has become critical. Nanotechnology is playing an increasingly important role in overcoming this global challenge. Around the world, medical researchers are working on nanoparticles for drug delivery which can deliver powerful medications to exactly where they are needed in the body, such as the site of a tumor or infection. This means that these medications can act more effectively – and with fewer side effects in the rest of the body. Nanoparticles have also enabled a totally new approach to cancer treatment; by injecting a magnetic nanoparticle fluid directly into the tumor and applying an external electromagnetic field, the tumor may be destroyed by heating it from the inside out.

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