Nanotechnology’s great sustainability promise is to bring about the much needed power shift in renewable energy: a new generation of highly efficient photovoltaics, nanocomposites for stronger and lighter wind energy rotor blades, to name but two; but also a new class of nanomembranes for carbon capture at fossil fuel power plants. Energy savings could be made if the proper nanomaterials were used not just for more efficient distribution and power transmission (and nanosensors might lend a helping hand to the decentralised management of renewable energy grids), but also to build smart glass and electrochromic windows capable of maximising the use of solar power to heat buildings.
Energy storage could be greatly enhanced by optimised batteries and supercapacitors, while nanotacalysts could optimise fuel production.
Safe water purification, filtration and desalination through cheap and portable nanotechnology systems is a huge hope for a better future which could help developing countries to have their own clean and drinkable water.
Nanomembranes, which are organic polymer-based nanocomposites less than 100 nm thick, are effectively filters operating at the molecular level. They are a class unto itself since their work is copied from nature, and indeed living cells use a form of nanomembrane to function. Their properties and optimal use are actively being researched, as in the case of highly selective MIMs (Molecularly Imprinted Materials) with strong membrane permeability and the incorporation of natural aquaporins, which are naturally occurring proteins, into industrial membranes.
Nanotechnology is also focusing on researching nanoparticles as powerful adsorbents and nanoscale titanium dioxide as a catalyst to remove contaminants. Nanosilver ceramic filters have already found their way onto market applications due to their antibacterial and antiviral action.