Last week saw the 3rd Nano Today conference held in Singapore – a conference dedicated to the futuristic world of nanotechnology. In the simplest terms, nanotech is a field dedicated to making incredibly small things, with the aim of creating miniaturized technologies that can improve our lives in various ways. The four day conference featured a host of academics from around the world discussing topics including the creation of ultra-strong or ultra-resistant materials, the possible medical applications of nanotechnologies, and whether nanotechs can be used to help with the very necessary creation of cheap and efficient energy.
Should we be welcoming the advent of these super-small technologies, or are there elements we should be wary of? Ultimately, the field is so new and so technologically forward-thinking that it’s a little difficult to say – as with any new technology, things could go either way, and we could see nanotech being applied for good and bad purposes. If used well, nanotechnology could see great improvements in many day-to-day objects and materials – with bandages being designed to heal cuts and wounds quicker, metals being designed to be stronger, and computers being designed to work faster with less memory.
However, there remain concerns, particularly over the still largely untested impacts of nanoparticles on human health. Some groups are worried that nanoparticles could enter the food and water cycles, with unintended consequences like killing off the positive bacteria that allow ecosystems to thrive. Equally, there are worries that human inhalation of nanoparticles could lead to increased inflammation, and possibly even contribute to cancer and heart disease. There’s no strong proof for any of this yet, but neither is there strong proof against these possible side-effects – and a lot more testing will be needed before we can definitively know how to apply nanotechnology safely and effectively. This, of course, is precisely why conferences like this one are useful – to open up that debate.
In the meantime, however, there are plentiful technologies for us to work on while nanotech continues to grow. NRGLab has been trying to develop similarly efficient technologies without the health and environmental concerns that accompany nanotech. This includes our polycrystal technology that produces low cost electricity without the dangerous and polluting emissions that usually accompany it. We have also been working to improve the efficiency of gas turbine generators and gasification plants while also reducing costs, and we have been helping to turn waste material into eco-friendly fuel sources. You can read more about our technologies at http://nrglab.asia/projects.html.
What’s the take-away lesson from all of this? Well, it seems that nanotechnology certainly holds some promise, and we wish the scientists working on it well. But it may be that we don’t need to ‘reinvent the wheel’ in such dramatic ways in order to have a positive impact. While we wait to see whether nanotech will be a positive or a negative force, we can focus on optimizing existing technology and existing resources to produce a brighter future for all through lower cost, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly energy production. The science behind it may not be quite as high-tech, but it is here today and we can start making a difference with it immediately.
Report prepared by Mike Burd