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Nanoplastics are plastics that have nanoscale additives to give the material additional properties. These properties vary depending on the application, but nanoscale additives can make plastics lighter yet stronger, more heat-resistant, more UV-resistant, antimicrobial, more conductive, or add any number of other properties. Nanoplastics is an infant industry with many exciting theoretical products on the horizon including intelligent and self-repairing plastics.
Nanoplastics is just one industry under the much larger umbrella of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology creates biochemical machinery on the nanoscale level. A nanometer (nano for short) is one billionth of a meter, so nanotechnology deals with molecular or atomic processes. At this level of life, proteins and other chemicals interact to form bonds and carry out processes. Nanotechnology harnesses those natural processes through direct manipulation to create unique configurations that can have profound effects on the macro scale. Nanoplastics is nanotechnology applied to plastics.
Scientists believe nanoplastics will transform our homes and our lives in the not too distant future. When computers can be the size of blood cells, nanoplastics can incorporate tremendous processing power, becoming “intelligent” materials. Imagine walls that respond to temperature and sound, floors that self-clean spills and dirt, and chairs that re-form themselves to adjust to the size and weight of the person sitting in them. A future television made of nanoplastics might project images out of the screen toward the viewer, and nanoplastics applied to paint products could result in cars that “heal” their own scratches.
With the vast array of possibilities facing the burgeoning nanoplastics industry today, it’s little wonder that Lux Research has projected a 12 billion US Dollar (USD) corporate investment in nanoplastics research and development for 2008. It is virtually impossible to imagine an area of industry that won’t benefit from applied nanoplastics.
Biodegradable plastics, conducting plastics, solar-absorbing smart clothes, rubber bumpers that bounce back into shape, and nanoclay that can shape-shift to form anything needed on the spot: these are all hypothetically possible applications of nanoplastics. Until the future arrives, however, nanoplastics will be found in the way of improved every day materials such as sports equipment, dental materials, and self-cleaning glass.