Nanotechnology Having Beneficial Effects in Agriculture

With potential adverse health and environmental effects often in the news about nanotechnology, scientists in Arkansas are reporting that carbon nanotubes (CNTs) could have beneficial effects in agriculture. Their study, scheduled for the October issue of ACS Nano, a monthly journal, found that tomato seeds exposed to CNTs germinated faster and grew into larger, heavier seedlings than other seeds. That growth-enhancing effect could be a boon for biomass production for plant-based biofuels and other agricultural products, they suggest.

Mariya Khodakovskaya, Alexandru Biris, and colleagues note that considerable scientific research is underway to use nanoparticles — wisps 1/50,000th the width of a human hair — in agriculture. The goals of “nano-agriculture” include improving the productivity of plants for food, fuel, and other uses.

The scientists report the first evidence that CNTs penetrate the hard outer coating of seeds, and have beneficial effects. Nanotube-exposed seeds sprouted up to two times faster than control seeds and the seedlings weighed more than twice as much as the untreated plants. Those effects may occur because nanotubes penetrate the seed coat and boost water uptake, the researchers state. “This observed positive effect of CNTs on the seed germination could have significant economic importance for agriculture, horticulture, and the energy sector, such as for production of biofuels,” they add.

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Research Strategy to Better Understand How Nanomaterials Harm Human Health and the Environment

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today outlined a new research strategy to better understand how manufactured nanomaterials may harm human health and the environment. Nanomaterials are materials that are between approximately one and 100 nanometers. A nanometer is approximately 1/100,000 the width of a human hair. These materials are currently used in hundreds of consumer products, including sunscreen, cosmetics and sports equipment.

The strategy outlines what research EPA will support over the next several years to generate information about the safe use of nanotechnology and products that contain nano-scale materials. The strategy also includes research into ways nanotechnology can be used to clean up toxic chemicals in the environment.

Nanomaterials are used in a wide variety of consumer products. For instance, because of the unusual light-absorbing properties of the zinc or titanium nanoparticles they contain, high-SPF nano sunscreens are clear rather than white. Studies show that they provide superior protection against UV radiation.

EPA’s role among federal agencies is to determine the potential hazards of nanotechnology and develop approaches to reduce or minimize any risks identified. As part of the strategy, researchers are investigating widely used nanomaterials, such as carbon nanotubes, which are used in vehicles, sports equipment and electronics; and titanium dioxide, which is used in paints, cosmetics and sunscreens.

The research is being conducted in EPA’s own laboratories and by grant recipients as part of a collaborative effort with other federal organizations and the international community.

EPA’s research is conducted using a multidisciplinary approach that examines all aspects of nanomaterials in the environment, from their manufacture and use to their disposal or recycling. EPA’s new nanotechnology Web site provides more details about the research and offers news and publications.

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Nanotechnology Breakthroughs Essential to Addressing World Issues

Nanotechnology breakthroughs will be essential in developing game-changing solutions to address world issues, such as energy shortages, environmental concerns and greater connectivity, said Alcoa (NYSE:AA) Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Mohammad A. Zaidi at Rusnanotech ’09, the second international nanotechnology forum held in Moscow Oct. 6-8.

“I believe that future growth drivers in business will focus on energy, environment, connectivity and the biomedical field,” Dr. Zaidi said. “In all of these fields, we know that nanotechnology could enable huge opportunities for advancements. Based on what I’ve seen in the field of nanotechnology in the last five years, it’s obvious that the future rate of change will far surpass anything we’ve ever experienced to date.”

Dr. Zaidi’s presentation kicked off the panel discussion, “Nanotechnology in Machinery,” on the first day of the international forum, which was attended by more than 6,550 representatives of industry, government and science from 36 countries.

“At Alcoa, we are a world leader in light metals technology. We invented the commercial aluminum smelting process in 1888 and haven’t stopped innovating since,” he said. “Nanotechnology enables us to explore new game-changing solutions for our customers, offering products that are more durable, scratch resistant, abrasion resistant, heat resistant and blast resistant. For our market segments, we see nanotechnology as a huge enabler of new functionalities and an enabler of energy and environmental efficiencies.”

The speech also highlighted a number of initiatives that Alcoa scientists, researchers and engineers are working on for the major markets that Alcoa services. Examples include nanotechnologies that enable stronger electrical transmission cables at higher temperatures, with greater electrical conductivity and reduced transmission losses to fulfill growing urban load demands, and nano-coatings for the oil & gas market that provide more durable oil risers and drill pipes enabling deeper off-shore exploration at lower cost.

“As a global, Fortune 100 corporation with operations in 31 countries around the world serving such a wide range of markets, nanotechnology offers Alcoa tremendous opportunities,” Dr. Zaidi said. “In the same light, we believe that we offer the field of nanotechnology tremendous opportunities as well. Our breadth of market intelligence, combined with our expertise in material and design integration and our presence in both the U.S. and Russia, enables us to be in a unique position to be an industrial test bed for the most promising developments in this exciting field of technology.”

Generating Hydrogen Fuel using Artificial Photosynthesis and Nanotechnology

A team of four chemists at the University of Rochester have begun work on a new kind of system to derive usable hydrogen fuel from water using only sunlight.

The project has caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Energy, which has just given the team nearly $1.7 million to pursue the design.

“Everybody talks about using hydrogen as a super-green fuel, but actually generating that fuel without using some other non-green energy in the process is not easy,” says Kara Bren, professor in the Department of Chemistry. “People have used sunlight to derive hydrogen from water before, but the trick is making the whole process efficient enough to be useful.”

Bren and the rest of the Rochester team—Professor of Chemistry Richard Eisenberg, and Associate Professors of Chemistry Todd Krauss, and Patrick Holland—will be investigating artificial photosynthesis, which uses sunlight to carry out chemical processes much as plants do. What makes the Rochester approach different from past attempts to use sunlight to produce hydrogen from water, however, is that the device they are preparing is divided into three “modules” that allow each stage of the process to be manipulated and optimized far more easily than other methods.

The first module uses visible light to create free electrons. A complex natural molecule called a chromophore that plants use to absorb sunlight will be re-engineered to efficiently generate reducing electrons.

The second module will be a membrane suffused with carbon nanotubes to act as molecular wires so small that they are only one-millionth the thickness of a human hair. To prevent the chromophores from re-absorbing the electrons, the nanotube membrane channels the electrons away from the chromophores and toward the third module.

In the third module, catalysts put the electrons to work forming hydrogen from water. The hydrogen can then be used in fuel cells in cars, homes, or power plants of the future.

By separating the first and third modules with the nanotube membrane, the chemists hope to isolate the process of gathering sunlight from the process of generating hydrogen. This isolation will allow the team to maximize the system’s light-harvesting abilities without altering its hydrogen-generation abilities, and vice versa. Bren says this is a distinct advantage over other systems that have integrated designs because in those designs a change that enhances one trait may degrade another unpredictably and unacceptably.

Bren says it may be years before the team has a system that clearly works better than other designs, and even then the system would have to work efficiently enough to be commercially viable. “But if we succeed, we may be able to not only help create a fuel that burns cleanly, but the creation of the fuel itself may be clean.”

Nanocatalysts could be helpful in reducing air pollution

(Nanowerk News) A research team at the chemical process technology laboratory of Tabriz University, Iran found solutions for reducing emissions of volatile organic compounds in air (“Catalytic Combustion of Ethyl Acetate over Nanostructure Cobalt Supported ZSM-5 Zeolite Catalysts”). They have recently found a new way by which the air pollution caused by chemical and petrochemical industries can be reduced using nanocatalysts.

In this project, a survey on catalytic oxidation of volatile organic compounds including oxygen compounds via improved ZSM-5 with Cobalt, copper, binary metal compounds and another survey on the effects of these nanocatalysts on removing these compounds were conducted. “First, the improved ZSM-5 catalysts were synthesized with different percentages of Cobalt via wet impregnation, and then they were washed and dried. Next, noted nanocatalysts were fixed in a glass reactor in specific amounts,” Aligholi Niabi, senior member of the research team said.

Then in a catalytic oxidation set up, ethyl acetate polluted air flows with specific concentrations entered the reactor (at different temperatures), and were converted on the surface of catalysts, at last the outputs were analyzed by gas chromatography (GC) and GC-Mass, Niabi added.

Results demonstrate obtaining a rather a more pure air. Now this team is applying the project on a power plant in East Azerbaijan.

Nanocatalysts could be helpful in reducing air pollution