- Since 1990, nanotechnology has revolutionised many industries, and metalworking has been no exception. Its improvement in the efficiency, durability and performance of metal products has opened new manufacturing and process windows.
- Nanomaterials are engineered and manipulated at a tiny scale of 1 to 100 nanometres, i.e. up to 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. These materials have unique properties that are transforming the way metals are used in a variety of applications.
Nanotechnology and the development of nanomaterials have had a major impact on the fields of science and engineering, influencing future technologies and improving industrial solutions. In this article we explain how these tiny materials are being integrated into the metal industry and how they are shaping its future.
Excellent conductors and catalysts
Among the main breakthroughs of these components is their incredible role as conductors and catalysts, which can improve the efficiency of key chemical processes, such as chemical synthesis and exhaust gas purification. This is why the use of graphene in the production of batteries for electric cars, for example, has not gone unnoticed.
The boost in batteries makes them lighter, more compact, more powerful and safer, providing ranges of around 800 kilometres in an average electric car and a lifespan four times longer than today’s lithium batteries. By not containing metals, the battery is more environmentally sustainable, considerably reducing its carbon footprint and promoting the recycling of materials.
This case applied to the automotive industry does not leave other industries such as energy and electronics indifferent, providing improved electrical and thermal conductivity, increasing the efficiency of devices such as solar panels or microchips.
Strong and resilient
These materials are also distinguished by their strength and toughness. Their most direct application in this field is linked to the aeronautics industry and the defence industry, where low weight and a high degree of strength are required.
These nanomaterials are generally divided into four groups:
- Carbon-based nanomaterials: These are cylindrical carbon structures with exceptional electrical conductivity and mechanical strength properties.
- Metal-based nanomaterials: These are particles of metals, such as gold, silver, platinum, copper and others, with nanometric dimensions.
- Polymeric: These are those that are composed primarily of nanofibres or nanotubes.
- Ceramics: Those containing a ceramic matrix to improve the properties and performance of ceramic materials.
Nanomaterials: the material of the future
Nanomaterials represent the cutting edge of materials and are an ever-growing area of research and development. Its impact on technology and industry in general opens up new possibilities in many fields, especially in renewable energy components for the energy transition to a decarbonised industry.
At the same time, it is vital to mention that, despite their great potential, the challenges presented by nanomaterials are addressed, especially with regard to the safety and regulation of their production and use. Continued research and development will allow them to be adopted in more and more processes, but to realise their full potential, measures and regulations will be needed to make their use safe and responsible to avoid malpractice, for example in industries such as cosmetics or medicine, where they also have great potential for application.