Hot Topic II: Nano on the move
Nanotechnology to enable Space Elevator: Science fiction or a science fact?
In recent decades, automotive manufacturers are one of the main beneficiaries of the skyrocketing growth in transport use. Which brings to them an ever-growing responsibility – making sure rising car numbers do not necessarily translate into an increased environmental impact. In efforts to make transportation more efficient and environmentally sound, automotive manufacturers tap into advances in nanotechnology research and development. Conveniently, applications of nanotechnology are delivering on the promise to benefit society in both expected and unexpected ways.
Predominantly, nanotechnology is providing lighter and stronger materials, reducing the weight of vehicles, which in turn results in better fuel economy, reduced emissions and improved vehicle performance. As an added bonus, more attractive and safer components are becoming available for the industry. The lightness of nanomaterials is proving useful for the aviation and shipping industry. This being said, we have to remember that the history of nano in automotive sector started from paints and coatings. Thanks to their potential for scratch-free, self-cleaning surfaces, monetary and environmental costs for manufacturers had significantly decreased. Among the key applications are nanocoatings for super-hardening, low friction, and enhanced corrosion protection; “tailored” materials for infrastructure and vehicles; as well as “smart” materials that monitor and assess their own status and repair any defects resulting from fatigue, fire, etc.
Similarly, nanotechnology offers various means to improve the transportation infrastructure, for instance, nano-engineering of steel and concrete suggests a great promise in longevity of highway and transportation infrastructure. Whereas, nanoscale sensors may support drivers to maintain lane position, avoid collisions and adjust travel routes.
Experts say seventy percent of all automotive applications shall use nanotechnology in the nearest few years, which means that nanotechnology will affect all areas of transportation, providing a variety of tools to outline our realm in the upcoming decades. To gain a better overview of how nanotechnology will shape the transportation industry through the nano-particles world, we spoke to Laurent Kosbach, who heads Nanosyl, and is also a speaker at the final plenary of the EuroNanoForum 2015 titled Winning the Competition: success stories and lessons learned.
“Nanosyl is a Netherlands-based producer of carbon nanotubes, focusing on solving challenges of the Energy and Automotive industries. Thus, based on our knowledge and experience, we firmly believe that the transport and the energy industries will benefit from nano products as they can provide lighter, but resistant materials as well as higher conductivity for improved energy management. We look forward to making longer life elastomers and improved plastics”, says Mr. Kosbach. When asked about Europe’s future he commented, “Innovation and creation of specialty products will be the way out of recession. Europe cannot fight on the cost of labour; it has to fight on the value creation of labour and capital in the economics sense”.
Yet, the automotive industry is just one facet of transport – air and space travel are also massive segments, where nanomaterials offer promising avenues for future innovation. For example, new materials permit ultra-miniaturisation of space systems and equipment, making advanced aircraft avionics possible. Moreover, it is very likely that, using carbon-based fibres that are hundred times stronger than steel, at only one-sixth the weight, nanotechnology may lift the Space Elevator development from the level of Science fiction to a Science fact.