Nanotechnology – tiny solutions to big problems facing eco homes?

oliver General, Materials, Technology/ Energy Saving, Water saving

Most people have heard of nanotechnology but cant quite picture the benefits. That’s hardly surprising when you consider that nanotechnology refers to actions below a scale of 110 nm (where one nm is one-billionth of a metre). And to put that into perspective, a hazelnut is roughly one-billionth the size of Earth.


That’s pretty tiny but we are just waking up to the massive potential of working at this scale. It’s pretty incredible to think how this could change almost every area of our lifestyles, particularly in the areas of conduction (electrical stuff), insulation and cleanliness (health and virus control).


The man considered the grandaddy of nanotechnology is Dr. Kim Eric Drexler, an American engineer, who first popularised the potential of molecular nanotechnology in the 1970s. Dr. Drexler proposed the idea of a nanoscale ‘assembler’ that could build a copy of itself and other complex items-  could this be the rebirth of potential home industry?


Today, we’re just seeing the beginning of what Dr. Drexler hypothesised coming into the commercial world. One area where nanotechnology seems to be of particularly use is in paints. The waterproof paints from Paint Protection Systems, based on chemical nanotechnology, are not only durable and highly water repellent but also fungus/algae/bacteria resistant. Their thermal and stretchable capabilities make them perfect for painting where water is involved –  swimming pools, water tanks and the like.




Nutshell Natural Paints are also using a nanotechnology additive in their nano emulsion as a means of adding insulation and moisture repellence in the home. By blocking thermal- and moisture-transfer, they can be used to keep heat in, and moisture and mould out. Pretty exciting to be able to simple paint this onto walls – easy and less upheaval for home owners.




You might not have heard of titanium dioxide but the chances are you’ve seen it, especially if you’re a tennis fan. Used in toothpaste, solar cells and as pigment for white paint (hence its use as court markings at Wimbledon), this stuff is revealing brilliant eco-credentials. Not only does it self-clean, by drawing water across its surface, removing grime, but it can also be used to remove pollutants from the air. The ultraviolet light from the sun frees up electrons, producing ‘free radicals’. These then actively work to break down pollutants. In paint form, it’s being used in pioneering projects across the world, including being applied to walls in Camden and reducing pollutants by as much as 65% in those areas. It’s forming an important part of the Europe-wide LIFE+ project PhotoPAQ, aimed at providing new solutions for improving air quality.


One of the biggest problems people can face is not having access to clean drinking water. The health implications are enormous. But scientists at Stellenbosch University in South Africa believe they might have found the solution. By using the same material used to produce teabags, and lining the inside with ultra-thin nanofibres, it is possible to filter out contaminants and bacteria. After a couple of days, the bags are simply removed with no adverse environmental effects. What’s even better is that the bags are so cheap to produce -costing only a few pence – that this could be a genuine worldwide solution to one of our greatest problems.




As you can see, the potential benefits of nanotechnology are colossal but it doesn’t stop there. A research team at the US Department of Energy is looking into nanosensors that can energise themselves simply through the tiniest movements, such as a breeze or being carried in a pocket. This could mean an end to the age of the battery.



Nanotechnology is also being used to create new window technology, notoriously the weakest point of any building’s energy profile. Creating glass that automatically changes colour when the sun shines, it can block or allow heat to enter. Norwegian company EnSol AS has created a spray that can be applied to windows allowing them to generate solar power without clouding the view.




Silica aerogel can also be used as a means of thermally insulating windows. Producing it in a weightless environment reduces the Rayleigh scattering effect that occurs when making silica gel, making glass cleaner and less blue.




And if all that doesn’t sound good enough, then how about if I told you that nanotechnology could even mean you wouldn’t have to wash your socks? A similar nano particle coating, applied to wool and silk fabrics, could help them to self-clean stains and smells when exposed to sunlight. That means when it’s laundry time, all you have to do is go for a walk in the sunshine. Sounds a lot better than putting a wash on doesn’t it?




So remember when someone tells you that bigger is better, that may be true but it’s likely to be the really small things in life that will making the biggest changes in years to come. Watch this space – very, very closely.