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Nanotech for Developing Countries

There has always been a talk that nanotechnology will be highly benefiting developing countries and will help them harness the best result out of this emerging technological arena. Since nanotechnology promises to address the basic needs of energy and health, albeit in most economic manner, the need for its adoption and investment to develop applications is felt more in developing countries across the globe. Though termed to be a challenge, the adoption of this technology is visible in most of the developing countries, thanks to the awareness and also need. As rightly said “Necessity is the mother of Innovation”, it is more of a need rather to show one-upmanship in the world of technology.

Take the case of drinking water… potable water is the need for everyone and anywhere. The demand for good hygiene drinking water is felt all the more in developing nations, which can not afford to spend huge amounts. Here the challenge for the governments in the developing nations is to make potable water available to all the citizens; this is not an easy task. But the process has been made simple and cost-effective by nanotechnology. Water filters based on nanotechnology have come which are affordable, more importantly in the developing nations.

Similarly, healthcare… the demand for providing affordable healthcare and cure for many dreaded diseases is a big challenge which is being addressed by nanotechnology. Like wise there are many issues that could find solutions, thanks to nanotechnology. Here we present the highlights of the report developed by TERI in regards to nanotechnology usage in developing countries.

Nanotechnology is an enabling technology that can help address key needs relating to energy, environment, health and agriculture in less developed countries. This report reviews international NT developments on the advances in nanomaterials to those applications of relevance to environment, energy, agriculture, food, and health with a view to draw out key lessons and issues of relevance for countries in the developing world to acquire capabilities in nanotechnology. Nanomaterials have been categorized on the basis of their function (adsorbents, catalysts, membranes, others) so that a variety of nano materials with multiple applications could be covered.

Among the developing countries, the key environmental issues are water and sanitation, land degradation, air pollution, climate change. The energy issues cover energy access, clean and advanced energy system and energy efficiency.

International research and development efforts over the past five years applicable to the environmental sector include water purification, pollutants sequestration for improved analysis of microcontaminants, wastewater treatment especially to remove recalcitrant compounds, process improvement in liquid-liquid separation, desalination, better electrode sensors etc. In the energy sector, research will impact hydrogen production and storage, fuel cells, CO2 separation, air enrichment, processes like aromatics cracking in refineries / biorefineries.

In energy and environment applications, nanotechnology has provided the following main advantages / capability:

  • Improved capacity (adsorbents for hydrogen storage, electrodes in energy storage batteries / capacitors) and rapid reaction (adsorbents for pollutants removal
  • Higher process efficiency (catalysts / electrodes for photocatalytic / electrochemical degradation, solar cells)
  • Lower cost (lower noble metal catalyst requirements, replacement of costly precious metal catalysts, replacement of costly silicon solar cells)
  • Customized properties (functionalized adsorbents, antifouling membranes, specific sensor materials, lower thermal conductivity in thermoelectric materials)

Review of developments in nanotechnology applicable to energy and environment suggests the following key lessons for developing countries:

  • It is observed that the research on NT related to energy and environment applications are driven by the following aspects:
  • Overcoming limitations of existing technology (for example improved selectivity & prevention of side reaction in case of catalysts; higher flux, lower fouling and better selectivity in membrane processes; higher strength with nanopowder reinforcements for a variety of materials)
  • Improving efficiency of processes (for example higher adsorption capability, lower temperature requirements, shorter time for processing)
  • Reducing size and cost of products (for example less precious metal nano catalyst requirement in case of fuel cells, lesser membrane area requirement in filtration)
  • Opening up new applications and markets (for example sensors with higher sensitivity for measuring pollutants, hydrogen storage)

Overall, the research and development scene internationally is very vibrant. The challenges in converting these developments to feasible technologies appear to be:

  • producing the nanomaterials in large enough volumes, with consistent quality, at acceptable costs
  • supplying the nanomaterials in a form (such as proper particle size, surface chemistry, dispersion capability, compatibility with various media etc.) that would allow integration into the process
  • engineering and customizing the nano-based system to local requirements
  • addressing environmental, health and safety concerns in the use and disposal of nano products.

Nanotechnology advances of relevance to agriculture and food processing sector, are targeted at improving food processing and storage (covering smart packaging, delivery systems for nutraceuticals / bioactive compounds, sensors for food quality monitoring), enhancing agricultural productivity and exploiting plants for nanomaterials production. Interestingly, there are several NT applications in the food sector that are already commercial. This trend appears to be driven by the significant market for nutraceuticals / bioactive products that, unlike pharmaceutical products, do not require exhaustive field testing and regulatory approvals. At the same time, there is growing concern on lack of information on the risks associated with nanomaterials in food (For example degradation, durability and toxicity of polymer–nanoparticulate systems in packaging, leaching of nanosilver in various food related consumer goods like nanocoated cookware etc).

The use of nanotechnology in health offers many advantages in aspects of drug delivery, diagnostics as well as regeneration. These include enhanced sensitivity, lower dosage requirement, targeted therapeutics, combined therapeutics and diagnostics, reduced side effects etc. Many of the applications are expected to enter the mainstream by 2015 or beyond. Given the high investment required for research and the cost and time required for getting clearances, profitability of the product is important in NT application in the health sector. In this sector as well, the risks involved are not clear with a variety of materials and applications opening up.

Nano Tv