Why are nanoparticles in the headlines now?
Ever since it was recognized that particles on the nano-scale had different and interesting properties, companies have been looking at how they may be applied for their own purposes. Nanoparticle applications have been limited by the availability of sufficient quantities of material, however the number of companies supplying industrial quantities of nanoparticle materials are increasing rapidly.
There are many reasons why a company may be interested in nanoparticles:Competition
In today’s global market competition is increasing. Can nanoparticles give a competitive edge in product performance?
Competition means costs are under pressure and can nanoparticles help reduce them?
Nanoparticles offer the possibility of tremendous added value. For example conversion of a raw clay into nano particulate clay can increase it’s value from $20 per tonne to $2000 per tonne.
The market opportunities
Many reports estimate that the global requirement for these nanoparticle clays, mainly for nanocomposites, will be 500,000 tonnes by 2013.
Manufacturing and materials technologies are changing rapidly and new developments could entirely replace today’s products. Such disruptive technologies have serious implications, for example the development of low cost digital cameras. Consumers have moved rapidly from using film to home printing. The production of film stock has been replaced by the sale of home printing accessories such as printing inks. Many traditional film manufacturers have had to change their whole development and marketing strategy to cope with this.
Research and development
The cost of developing new products and processes are increasing, The application of novel materials may be beyond the ability of individual companies to exploit. The government of all industrial countries are sponsoring schemes to address this issue by facilitating joint projects between nanoparticle manufacturers, industry and academia.
Health and safety
The issues are in the headlines due to scares about the new ‘nano-particles’ escaping into the environment. In fact we have lived with submicron sized particles around us for ever, the introduction of man-made versions has just brought to light how little we know about their toxic effects.
Everyone knows about the asbestos scares, but few know that it is only one type that is really harmful, blue asbestos, and there is very little of this about, certainly not in a domestic environment. Because of lack of understanding about this, we are currently spending a lot of money on disposal costs which are not always required. Nano-particles could fall in the same category if safety issues are not fully understood, and the regulations for handling them carefully drafted.