While there’s been plenty of focus on apps and cloud computing in the technology space, advances are also being made in hardware-focused sectors such as nanotechnology. Uses include everything from more efficient drug delivery systems to tiny transistors that allow for smaller and more powerful computer chips.
To be sure, the markets for nanotechnology products and nanotechnology uses are set to grow in the coming years. A report released this past April from Research and Markets states that the global nanotechnology industry has “enormous growth prospects,” and has been forecast to grow to as much as US$75.8 billion by 2020.
Similarly, BCC Research has said that the global nanotechnology market was valued at $22.9 billion in 2013 and $26 billion in 2014. It believes that the market will reach $64.2 billion by 2019.
Still, for investors just starting to look at nanotechnology stocks, it can be difficult to know where to to begin, as nanotechnology uses are so varied. As a starting point, here’s an overview of six of the top areas in which nanotechnology uses are making a big difference today.
Materials and coatings
Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of nanotechnology is advancements in various types of materials and protective coatings. From fabrics and sporting gear to eyeglasses and computer and camera displays, there are plenty of possibilities for nanotechnology uses.
How does nanotechnology help make materials better? As the National Nanotechnology Initiative explains, “materials can effectively be made to be stronger, lighter, more durable, more reactive, more sieve-like, or better electrical conductors, among many other traits” using nanotechnology. Nanotechnology can also improve the coverage or absorption of cosmetics, and can make fabrics resistant to wrinkling and bacterial growth.
For example, Nano One Materials (TSXV:NNO) is developing a technology to process high volumes of advanced materials at a low cost, initially targeting materials used in lithium-ion batteries. Nanophase Technologies (OTCMKTS:NANX) and Lightwave Logic (OTCMKTS:LWLG) are also focused on nanotechnology-based materials.
Nanotechnology uses within the life sciences sector include therapy techniques, diagnostics, complex drug delivery systems and more. For instance, Medlab Clinical’s (ASX:MDC) NanoCelle™ delivery platform “convert[s] off patent pharmaceuticals into nanoparticle form,” allowing for a fraction of normal dosage to be administered. Medlab recently received approval to begin human trials using its system.
Other examples of medicine in nanotechnology include anti-viral medicines, such as NanoViricides’ (NYSEMKT:NNVC) medicines targeting influenza, HIV/AIDS, herpes and dengue fever, and RNAi therapeutic techniques, such as Dynamic Polyconjugates, which is being developed by Arrowhead Research (NASDAQ:ARWR).
While one might first think of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) when it comes to food and technology, nanotechnology also has an important role to play in the future of food. Nanotechnology can be used to enhance texture and flavor, and to better preserve and protect food from microbes via packaging that uses nanotechnology. As this 2014 article from Popular Mechanics notes, the most commonly used nanoparticle in foods is titanium dioxide, which is used to make things like yogurt look a little whiter.
Anyone watching the technology space is no doubt familiar with the rate of advancement predicted by Moore’s Law, which anticipates a doubling of transistor density each year. Electrical circuitry is becoming ever smaller, and it’s nanotechnology that makes such advancements possible. Last year, IBM (NYSE:IBM) announced it is working on a computer chip that will use 7-nanometer transistors, beating out Intel’s (NASDAQ:INTC) 14-nanometer production process.
Nanotechnology uses in the energy sector include applications in both energy storage and in the recovery of oil and gas. For example, PyroGenesis Canada (TSXV:PVR) uses its plasma-based tools and processes to help oil and gas companies advance greener and more efficient recovery operations. Its plasma processes are also used by the US Department of Defense and by the additive manufacturing/3D printing industries.
Nanotechnology is also used in the renewable energy sector — for example to enhance solar cells. Natcore Technology (TSXV:NXT) recently announced it has developed an all-back-contact silicon heterojunction cell structure that could eliminate the need for silver in solar cells, helping to lower the cost of solar power.
Water and air treatment
Finally, beyond enhancing solar cells, nanotechnology is important in a range of environmental and health applications, including air and water treatment. For example, US researchers have recently developed a “drinkable book” that uses pages full of silver nanoparticles to filter contaminated water. According to Scientific American, the book can filter up to 100 liters of drinking water.
In addition, nanotechnology is being used to improve air quality. Researchers in Japan developed a filtration system in 2007 that uses highly-porous manganese oxide with gold nanoparticles, while 3M (NYSE:MMM) uses nanotechnology for enhanced carbon monoxide air filtration.