Nanomaterials an open access nanoscience
The list of environmental problems that the world faces may be huge, but some strategies for solving them are remarkably small. First explored for applications in microscopy and computing, nanomaterials made up of units that are each thousands of times smaller than the thickness of human hair are emerging as useful for tackling threats of our planet, s well- being.
Scientists across the globe are devel-oping nanomaterials that can efficie-ntly use carbon dioxide from the air, capture toxic pollutants from water and degrade solid waste into useful products.
Nanomaterials could help us mitigate pollution. They are efficient catalysts and mostly recyclable. Now, they have to become economical for comm-ercialization and better to replace present day technologies completely, ” says Arun Chattopadhyay, a member of the chemistry faculty at the Center for Nanotechnology, Indian Insti- tute of technology Guwahati.
To help slow the climate changing rise in atmospheric in CO2 levels, researchers have developed nanoCO2 harvesters that can suck atmospheric carbon dioxide and deploy it for indu-strial purposes.
” Nanomaterials can convert CO2 into useful products like alcohol. The mat-erials could be simple chemical catal-ysts or photochemical in nature that work in the presence of sunlight, ” Chattpadhyay, who has been working with nanomaterials to tackle envi-ronmental pollutants for more than a decade.
While nanoparticles have potential to solve environmental problems, the small size that makes them useful for environmental cleanup also raises special concerns about health and persistence in the environment. “The long – term effects of using nanomat-erials have not been evaluated yet, ” says chatt- opadhyay.
The U. S National Institute of Enviro-nmental Health Sciences and others are funding research to evaluate the potential effects of engineered nano-particles on health and the environ-ment. Researchers are also creating models to predict nanomaterials tran-sport and fate in the environment as well as their potential effects on humans. If concerns that have been raised can be adequately dealt with, nano- materials could play a big role in helping us cope with environ-mental challenges in the years ahead.
Another area being explored for app-lication of nanomaterials is managing organic waste, which can pollute land and water if not handled properly. “Farms and food industry generate humongous amounts of biodeg-radable waste, and we must find ways to manage it efficiently, ” says Debjyoti Sahu, a professor of engineering at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Karnataka in India.
One of the oldest methods to treat biodegradable waste is to dump it into tanks called digesters. These are full of anaerobic microbes that consume the material, converting it into biogas fuel and solids that can be used as fertilizers. But, anaerobic digestion is slow.
Most toxic dyes used in textile and leather industries can be captured with nanoparticles. “Water pollutants such as dyes from human created waste like those from tanneries could get to natural sources of water like deep tube wells or groundwater if wastewater from these indu-stries is left untreated”, says Chattopadhyay. This problem is rather difficult to solve”.
An international group of re-searchers led by professor Elzbieta Megiel of the University of Warsaw in Poland reports that nanomaterials have been widely studied for removing heavy metals and dyes from wastewater. According to the research team, adsorption proce-sses using materials containing magnetic nanoparticles are highly effective and can easily perfor-med because such nanoparticles have a large number of sites on their surface that can capture pollutants and don, t readily degrade in water.