Nanotechnology is an exciting technological advancement that has the potential to contribute significantly to the future of plastic. Through nanotechnology, special nanocomposites can be created that will be more dent, heat, and scratch resistant. Yet, the thermoplastic resins used to create the plastic can still be processed with the same equipment currently used to process resins.
A Closer Look at Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology involves being able to understand and to control matter at the amazingly small dimensions of one to 100 nanometers, with one nanometer being equivalent to one-billionth of a meter. As a point of reference, a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick. With nanotechnology, an object can be imaged, measured, modeled, and manipulated right down to each nanometer. At this very tiny level, the chemical, physical, and biological properties of materials are different than when in their bulk form. These new properties, therefore, can be used in different ways.
Since nanotechnology is a relatively new concept, there are still concerns associated with it. For example, critics of the nanotechnology maintain that certain substances may become toxic when manipulated at this small scale. Further, critics fear some of these manipulated substances could cause harm to the immune system if inhaled, absorbed through the skin, or otherwise digested.
Uses for Nanotechnology
Through the use of nanotechnology, the plastics industry hopes to achieve several amazing new accomplishments. For example, it may be possible to create auto body paints that are completely scratch-resistant. Or, many materials and products currently in use can be reduced further in size while improving efficiency. Memory chips the size of a postage stamp, yet capable of holding the data equivalent to 25 DVD's, is also on the horizon through the use of nanotechnology. Similarly, solar panels that can be manufactured at a much lower cost then they currently are may be able to be produced with nanotechnology.
Currently, nanotechnology is used in the creation of numerous materials. Materials reinforced through nanotechnology are used in thermoplastics, as they are capable of resisting heat, are flame retardant, provide dimensional stability, and are capable of conducting electricity. These nanocomposites are used in such places as the body side molding of vehicles, automotive parties, and fuel-line components. They are also used with hard drives in order to make them more conductive.
Plastic nanotubes are also being created with nanotechnology. These nanocomposites are generally 50 to 150 nanometers in diameter and are used to conduct electricity. While these nanotubes have the current carrying capacity of copper, they are extremely flexible. They are also very lightweight and durable. This technology is expected to be able to lead to the creation of conductive paints, caulks, coatings, sealants, fibers, and adhesives. The thick sheets and tubes are also considered to be potentially valuable to the automotive, aerospace, and chemical industries.
Finally, special nanocomposite foams have already been created. Over time, these foams will likely replace solid plastic because they are much lighter, yet look the same as solid plastics. Potential uses for these foam nanocomposites include coffee cups, fast food containers, home insulation, carpet padding, disposable diapers, seat cushions, and packaging material.