Tiny Solutions to Brobdingnagian Problems


Let’s talk about nanomaterials. They are materials that are composed of units that are thousands of times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. You may have heard of them being developed for computers or medical applications. Now scientists are trying to use them to target some planet-sized issues. The big three on the list are global warming, water pollution, and waste management.

According to a report on the environmental website Ensia, researchers are working on reducing atmospheric CO2 levels with what they call nanoCO2 harvesters. These harvesters can suck in the atmospheric carbon dioxide and then deploy it for industrial purposes.

Arun Chattopadhyay is a member of the chemistry faculty at the Center for Nanotechnology, Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati and has been working with nanomaterials to tackle environmental pollutants for more than a decade. He says, “Nanomaterials can convert carbon dioxide into useful products like alcohol. The materials could be simple chemical catalysts or photochemical in nature that work in the presence of sunlight.”

Nanomaterials are similarly being tested to see how effective they are at absorbing water pollutants. Researchers are working using them to remove toxic dyes, arsenic, lead, chromium, and mercury from water. Check out this video that shows how nanotubes can soak up oil in water.

So what can nanomaterials do to help manage solid waste? One major application would be using nanoparticles to accelerate anaerobic digestion. It would make the production of biogas faster and more efficient. Not only that, recent research has shown that you can double the amount of biogas produced by adding non-toxic, metal oxide nanoparticles to the digester.

It all sounds extremely promising and exciting. We just need to see what the long-term effects of nanomaterials in the environment are, if any, on people. MSW_bug_web

  • Jack Higgins.

    How do we know that a nano-tube particle is truly Non-toxic? have they been ingested by ocean animals who are then tested and the animals are completely free of nano-sized changes to their digestive tracts etc? What if the solution becomes another problem? BTW – I would only agree with TWO of your Big -Three Planet Issues as actually existing.


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