The nanotech revolution that is sweeping the coatings industry may live up to its sizzling promise after all, with apparently few risks and huge potential for functional coatings of every kind.
That is the conclusion of a landmark 10-year study of the risks of nanomaterials, including nanotech-engineered coatings.
Philipps-Universität Marburg / Macromolecular Chemistry
|“Nano” is a size, not “an intrinsic hazard characteristic,” a 10-year safety study concludes.|
“The size label nano does not immediately mean toxic, so it does not represent an intrinsic hazard characteristic,” concludes 10 Years of Research: Risk Assessment, Human and Environmental Toxicology of Nanomaterials, by the Dechema/VCI Working Group.
That’s good news, because nanotechnology and nanomaterials “may represent the major key for solving the most important challenges facing our society in a range of pivotal areas of fundamental needs,” says the study by Dechema, Germany’s venerable Society for Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. The working group focuses on the responsible production and use of nanomaterials.
Selling the Public
The promise extends to the global explosion in nanotech-engineered coatings, if the scientists and companies that are developing them can win over a still-uncertain public, the report says.
The study outlines health and environmental issues related to nanomaterials now on the market and those in development. It discusses new applications for nanomaterials and reviews nanomaterial risk research.
And while the authors advocate continued development and commercialization of nanotechnology, they caution that nanotech backers will need to keep the public in the loop for these advances to succeed.
Developers will need “measures to inform and engage in dialogue with the general public” to fully win mainstream acceptance of new materials, the report says.
Coatings as Problem Solvers
The study includes extensive discussion of nanocoatings—so-called “smart coatings” that containing suspensions of microscopic particles that actually alter their behavior in response to changing external conditions.
Researchers say these coatings have the potential to meet a wide range of needs in diverse fields—from medicine and energy to construction and infrastructure.
Nanotechnology has already become the basis for metal, ceramic and plastic coatings that can resist scratches (and thus material degradation); repel water (and corrosion) as well as dirt and grease; kill bacteria; and catalyze chemical reactions.
Today and Tomorrow
Already, researchers say, a thin coating of silicon dioxide on glass can convert sunlight to electric energy, while other coatings reduce reflection and enhance solar energy systems. When used as a paper coating, silicon dioxide has been shown to speed printing.
UV-activated nanoscale titanium dioxide, used in paints and on concrete, can fight damaging air pollutants. Lacquers containing silver-coated titanium dioxide can kill bacteria and fungi on metals, plastics and glass. Silver nanoparticles in medical coatings can also fight bacteria.
Tin oxide, indium oxide and tungsten oxide coatings provide electric conductance used in sensors for gases, while carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are among the hottest areas of functional coating research today.
While the initial findings are encouraging, the report also recommends continued study as new nanomaterials are developed and current materials find new applications.
Among the issues for coatings:
• The release of “nano-objects” from paints and coatings into the environment;
• The stability of nanocoatings under changing environments;
• New methods that will be required to analyze nanocoatings;
• Environmental risks of silver nanomaterials used in coatings; and
• Lifecycles of nano-engineered coatings.
The report cites a number of studies that have already been completed in these areas and notes that others are underway.