I thought I should look into this subject, which has promised big things. So, I put nano and successes into Google and discovered….no particular “breakthroughs”. How is that possible? I then looked at some chemical journals and other sources to learn more. From what I can determine, there are a huge number of relatively small successes in applications ranging all over the map. But many seem less than “earthshaking”, except perhaps in pharma. A huge amount of research, both government- and privately sponsored, has, however, produced a lot of nano discoveries that are yet to be commercialized.
Actually, some nano “successes” have been around long before the word became part of our language. An interesting article points out that DuPont was making nano-TiO2 70 years ago, which started being used as a sun-block ingredient. Carbon black producers have been using nano-sized carbon fillers since the 1920s to double tire life. And nanogold was found in a 4th Century AD cup made of red glass that transmits in red but reflects in green. The article also points out that Alcoa 80 years ago developed a nano-structured aluminum coloring and anodizing process where particles were trapped inside the “tiny” pores. But it seems that this technology generated little fanfare and was surely not characterized as “pigments designed to fit inside nanotubes” as the process would now be described.
One can find some recent successes. Baker Hughes’s nanotechnologists developed a nanocoating for the frac balls used for hydraulic fracturing of shale formations. The problem was recovery of the frac balls so that the horizontal well can continue to be drilled. Ultrafine(nano-scale) metallic particles were sintered into blocks from which the frac balls are made. After they are fired into the well, the material slowly disaggregates and the metal in the ball reverts to a powder, allowing recovery of the frac balls. Other downhole applications are cited in the Baker Hughes blog.
Another successful application is in the lithium ion battery industry, where particles less tham 100nm in diameter modify the crystal structure of the lithium ions so that phase changes due to charging or discharging the battery prevent separation, thus improving battery performance.
Chemical Week magazine reported on a catalyst made by Case Western Reserve University that used carbon nanotubes dipped in a polymer solution that outperformed platinum catalyst used in fuel cells(!).
One source assembled information on the current commercial applications of nanotechnologies. They are led by the advantages of colloidal nanoparticles in bulk form as in cosmetics, protective coatings, drug delivery amd stain resistant clothing. Other consumer products where nanotechnologies have been applied are computers, medical devices, and sports equipment. The global market share for nanotechnology applications is led by materials (31%); electronics(28%); medicine (17%); chemistry (9%); aviation(6%); amd others(9%). The market for these technologies is expected to reach 2 billion dollars by 2015.
I encourage readers to send comments regarding their views on nanotechnology, to the extent they have formed an opinion.