Nanotechnology deals with the understanding, control, and manufacture of matter in the nanoscale regime, usually between 1 nm to 100 nm, and exploiting them for a useful application. At this length scale, unique properties and phenomena arise as a result of increased surface-to-volume ratio and dominance of quantum mechanical effects. The field has opened up opportunities to design, manipulate and control structures and devices at the nanometer scale down to the molecular and even atomic level, offering improved or new functionalities.
The availability and development of advanced tools and techniques (beginning with scanning probe microscopes in the ‘80s) to probe properties and the possibility to manipulate matter at the fundamental atomic level has been a catalyst for such progress. As the field is continuously evolving with many new properties and phenomena being discovered, it is beginning a new era of inventions.
Nanotechnology products are expected to contribute significantly to environmental and climate protection and aid in saving energy and water, raw materials, as well as reduce hazardous waste generation and greenhouse gases. Scientists are working on developing a nanomaterial solution to clean up radioactive waste from water. The technology is also being used to clean up oil spills.
With the world fighting its biggest public health crisis in history, nanotechnology healthcare applications are storming into the spotlight led by the focus on nano intervention in terms of designing effective ways to identify, diagnose, treat and eliminate the spread of COVID-19 infections. Their role as nanocarriers has potential to design risk-free and effective immunization strategies. In the post COVID-19 period, use of nanotechnology solutions in the production of a multitude of devices & products will continue to grow.
The domain of nanotechnology encompasses a very large area. The scientific research has focused on developing materials at the nanoscale level, understanding their unique properties and finding potential applications on the one hand; while on the other hand, exploiting possibilities of miniaturization using nanotechnology, development of nanoscale devices with the required functionalities are also being explored. Accordingly, nanotechnology has been divided into two broad categories – i ) nanomaterials and ii) nanoscale devices.
With the rapid advancement of the field, many engineered nanomaterials are being synthesized while new materials are discovered. There are metals, ceramics, polymers, those based on carbon and even composites, of different forms and shapes. Depending on the dimensional characteristics, they may be zero-dimensional (0-D), where all the dimensions are less than 100 nm, e.g.: fullerenes, quantum dots; one dimensional (1-D) as nanotubes, nanorods or nanowires, e.g. CNT; two dimensional (2-D) as nano sheet, nanofilms or nanocoatings, e.g. graphene; three dimensional (3-D) wherein bulk materials consist of nanostructured grains. Some of them are already produced at an industrial scale, e.g.: carbon nanotube, titanium oxide, silver.
Nanomaterials find application in cosmetics, healthcare, air purification, and environmental preservation applications, among others. Nanoparticles are being developed to deliver drugs to damaged arteries to fight cardiovascular disease and also to help in the transportation of chemotherapy drugs directly to cancerous growths.
Some of the most common nanomaterials are mentioned below:
Carbon nanotube (CNT), discovered in 1991, is among the most widely researched nanomaterial as many interesting properties have been noted. They are hollow cylindrical tubes formed by rolling a sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal ring, as in a sheet of graphite, either in monolayer (single-walled nanotube, SWCNT) or multilayer (multi-walled nanotube, MWCNT) form. Their diameter may be just under 1 nm (SWCNT) to more than 10 nm (MWCNT) and few tens of microns in length. Theoretical computation and experiments show its tensile strength is 50-100 GPa, nearly 100 times stronger than steel (0.3-1.8 GPa), making it the strongest material is known to mankind. It has high Young’s modulus (average 1 TPa), about five times that of steel. It is also very elastic (springs back to its original shape when released) and is ultra-light (density is a sixth of steel). Due to their high strength and elastic modulus, CNTs are finding application as reinforcements in composites like polymer matrix composites (PMCs) – improvements in strength (25-30 %) with small CNT addition (<5 weight %) have been reported.
Graphene, the new entrant in the carbon based family, is emerging as the most promising nanomaterial due to the combination of extraordinary properties. As a single layer of graphite, it is the thinnest material (monoatom thick) discovered in nature. It is harder than diamond and resilient (bent to large angles, > 160 ° and restraightened). Similar to CNTs, it has many applications as reinforcements in composites and is also less expensive. In its pure form it exhibits remarkable electrical conductivity. The electrons do not get scattered by the lattice as it travels under an electric field in the graphene layer. The electrons have an unusual behaviour in that they are lighter in graphene, hence move faster than those electrons in ordinary bulk metals or semiconductors (ballistic transport). Many of these properties make graphene a wonder material and a candidate for a number of applications. It is thought to even replace silicon (epitaxial graphene), the ubiquitos material in the present microelectronics industry, due to its high mobility charge carriers.
Nanostructured materials in bulk form or coatings offer much better properties compared to the conventional materials (grain size is microns to millimeters). The unique or enhanced properties in nanostructured materials arise due to the fine size (1-100 nm) of the grain (the building blocks) and its complex interaction with large percentage of grain boundary. They are becoming important for many applications including high strength tough structures, ultra-high density data storage based on giant magnetoresistance, selectively transparent coatings (transparent to visible but not to IR) and so on.
Nanostructured coatings with excellent properties (high hardness, toughness low friction, corrosion resistant etc) to offer enhanced performance (long life and multifunctionality) are being developed. These coatings depending on the functional requirement may be nanoscale monolayer, multilayer, nanocomposite, nanocrystalline or nanogradient.
Nanodevices refer to functional systems comprising one or more nanoscale element (nanostructures or nanomaterials) required to perform a certain intended task. They are becoming important with more emphasis given to miniaturization and the increased functionalities that can be achieved. They include semiconductor devices and the electromechanical systems (electronic elements and mechanical parts are integrated to perform a specific function). Military applications are expected to make a quantum leap with the advancement in nanoscale devices. The development of nanodevices is being fostered by intense research in areas of nanoelectronics, nanophotonics and Sensors and NEMS enabled by nanotechnology.
A new concept of using spin of an electron rather than its charge in conventional microelectronic devices is emerging to achieve new/improved functionalities. The electron spin acts as the information carrier in memory and logic devices that promise to be fast, reliable and consuming less power. This will lead to improvement in memory elements (possible to compress trillion bits / inch2), logic elements and spin transistors, possibly evolving into the much longed for computer-on-a-chip and eventually quantum computing. For e.g., Magnetic random access memory (MRAM) based on the electron spin can store large amounts of data. MRAM is also faster (four times DRAM) and non-volatile (memory retained even without power supply). The possibility of quantum computing using electron spin is also explored.
Novel properties and phenomena occur when photons interact with nanostructures. This has led to the emergence of nanophotonics – a confluence of photonics and nanotechnology. Surface plasmonics (collective oscillation of free electrons near the surface due to electromagnetic interaction) and meta materials are promising areas in nanophotonics. Nanoplasmonics structures such as nanoantennas or amplifiers significantly enhance the electric field of the incoming electromagnetic waves and coupling of incoming photons to the photovoltaic material. Metamaterials have several unusual properties such as magnetism at optical frequencies, negative refractive index, large positive refractive index, zero reflection, perfect absorption, giant circular dichroism, enhanced nonlinear properties etc. The typical feature sizes are from 10 nm to 100 nm for optical frequencies.
Nanoenabled-Sensors: Due to the unique properties associated with nanomaterials (large surface area and surface reactivity) and the possibility to integrate electronic circuitry and power system on the same chip, technologies hitherto not possible with bulk materials can be realised using nanotechnology. Nano-enabled sensors for sensing physical parameters, CBRNE agents and others are being developed. The main advantages are high sensitivity and good selectivity, small size and portability.
The global nanotechnology market size is expected to reach USD 290.93 Billion at a steady CAGR of 18.3% in 2028, according to latest analysis by Emergen Research. Nanotechnology market is witnessing increasing growth due to ability of the technology to significantly reduce manufacturing costs, offer products at more cost-effective prices, manufacture smaller, lighter, and more functional devices and products that will require less energy and fewer raw materials to produce.
Nanotechnology finds application in treatment of cancer as well as offers high potential for new and faster computers, life-saving medical treatments, and an efficient power source. Economic disruption and possible threats to privacy and security are some of the potential disadvantages of nanotechnology. Concerns regarding the effects of nanotechnology on health, environment, and safety are some key factors hampering its adoption.
Application of nanotechnology in various solutions will solve some complex problems. The technology will be useful production of inexpensive products that require few raw materials. Nanotechnology will prove useful in resolving challenges pertaining to food security, health and sanitation, and environment, especially in developing countries. Governments of countries such as China, Brazil, Chile, India, South Africa, Thailand, South Korea, and Philippines have shown interest in nanotechnology and established government-funded programs and research institutes.
In 2021, MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering announced the development of a new class of artificially created 2D molecules that can assemble nanoribbons that are stronger than steel and these new molecules do not break down over time.
The Nanotechnology market in the U.S. is estimated at US$13.2 Billion in the year 2021. China, the world`s second largest economy, is forecast to reach a projected market size of US$5.1 Billion by the year 2026 trailing a CAGR of 11.2% over the analysis period. Among the other noteworthy geographic markets are Japan and Canada, each forecast to grow at 8.1% and 9.4% respectively over the analysis period. Within Europe, Germany is forecast to grow at approximately 8.2% CAGR.
China has been investing majorly in the field of nanotechnology. The National Natural Science Foundation of China has funded many small and large projects in different areas of nanoresearch and encouraged three major programs in nanomanufacture, nanoscience, and molecular assembly, with a budget of USD 30 million (200 million yuan) each. Such initiatives by the Chinese government is driving growth of the market in Asia Pacific.
Amid the COVID-19 crisis, the global market for Nanotechnology estimated at US$42.2 Billion in the year 2020, is projected to reach a revised size of US$70.7 Billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 9.2% over the analysis period. Nanocomposites, one of the segments analyzed in the report, is projected to record a 8.7% CAGR and reach US$35.4 Billion by the end of the analysis period. After a thorough analysis of the business implications of the pandemic and its induced economic crisis, growth in the Nanomaterials segment is readjusted to a revised 10.1% CAGR for the next 7-year period.
Electronics remains one of the fastest growing end-use markets for nanocomposites driving robust gains in the market. Semiconductors is also benefiting from the electrically conductive properties of polymer nanocomposites. Besides electronics and electrical, nanocomposites also serves several other end-use markets including building & construction, automotive, IT, energy, and packaging where they have several commercialized and potential applications. Nanomaterials play an important role in the field of medicine by providing solutions for prophylactics, diagnostics and treatment of various medical conditions.
Nanotools Segment to Reach $7.7 Billion by 2026
In the global Nanotools segment, USA, Canada, Japan, China and Europe will drive the 7.1% CAGR estimated for this segment. These regional markets accounting for a combined market size of US$4.1 Billion in the year 2020 will reach a projected size of US$6.6 Billion by the close of the analysis period. China will remain among the fastest growing in this cluster of regional markets. Led by countries such as Australia, India, and South Korea, the market in Asia-Pacific is forecast to reach US$1 Billion by the year 2026.
In February 2021, Ceylon Green Produce (Pvt) Ltd. launched an organic product ‘Eco Tablets’ made using nanotechnology to enhance the quality of fuel used in vehicles. The fuel is available in two version, Eco Diesel’, for diesel vehicles and ‘Eco Racing’, for petrol vehicles. It enhances engine performance and efficiency from total fuel combustion and doubles engine lifespan.
Key players in the market include Fujitsu laboratories, Ltd., Bayer Material Science, Ademtech, GE Healthcare, IBM research, Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel, Altair Nanotechnologies Inc., Cypress Semiconductor, and Cortex Biochem.
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