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Quality of life

​​ Nanomaterials, a variety of applications

Published on 30 January 2017
In addition to access to water and energy, urban and intercity transportation and mobility, information, housing, and healthcare, quality of life also requires access to quality food.


The farming and food industries meet needs that are crucial to human survival and health, of course. However, food manufacturing and distribution raise a number of other issues, from food quality, how food passes through the human body, how food is consumed, biological balance, and the relationship between humans and the natural environment. Nanostructured substances can be used as food additives, where they serve as anticaking agents, emulsifiers, antioxidants, or sweeteners. They can also be used in food packaging to help improve monitoring and safety.


Nanostructured substances are mainly used in materials in contact with food products. Nano-objects like clay nanosheets, when used in food packaging, can help make packaging materials more rigid or thermostable, for example. These materials can also create an oxygen barrier to slow food spoiling. New active materials containing silver nanoparticles can deliver antibacterial properties to prevent bacteria from developing in packaged food, lowering the risk of food poisoning. Chemical and biological nanosensors are starting to make their way into "smart" food packaging materials, where they help ensure that proper temperature is maintained, detect bacterial contamination, and identify odors that indicate a product is ripe. These types of nanosensors can help track food quality from farm to factory to consumer, providing complete traceability of livestock and produce so that consumers know exactly what they are eating and where it comes from.  


Nanotechnologies are also playing a role in produce farming, and will continue to do so to an increasing extent in the future, helping make farming more efficient and limit the impacts of farming on the environment. Selective nanomembranes are already in use in greenhouse farming and water treatment, for example. Fertilizers are another area where nanotechnologies are bringing improvements like easier spreading and increased or delayed bioavailability, which can reduce the amount of fertilizer required and help make optimal use of plants at specific stages of their lifecycle. Phytosanitary products that can trigger certain plants' self-defense mechanisms, limiting the impact of disease, are also being developed.


The textile industry is using nanomaterials to make products with enhanced resistance to heat, fire, water, mechanical abrasion, and exposure to UV rays. Silver nanoparticles are being integrated into textile fibers, giving them antibacterial properties. When these engineered textiles are used in undergarments, they help fight odors. However, they are currently mainly used in hospital linens to prevent hospital-acquired infections. Textiles used in other garments will also be able to perform multiple functions. Nanocomponents will make it possible to integrate sensor-switch networks right into textile fibers, enabling a variety of functions (like identifying a given physiological state) that today require the use of heavy, cumbersome equipment. Fabrics able to harvest energy from the human body and transform it into electricity are also a longer-term possibility. The textile industry is turning to nanomaterials to develop solutions for markets that go far beyond the fashion and garment industries. In the future, the ability to treat textile fibers at the nanometric scale will make it possible to develop transdermal drug delivery solutions integrated right into fabric and fight counterfeiting by integrating coded fluorescent nanoparticles into apparel and other products.


The health and beauty industry is another area where nanoparticles can bring desirable properties. Structures like liposomes have been used in several new products, including sunscreens. Certain nanoparticles, like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, filter UV rays and are used in high-SPF sunscreens. Anti-aging creams using silicon dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles, which have the capacity to capture the enzymes responsible for skin dryness, have also been developed. Dental hygiene is another area where silicon dioxide nanoparticles are used; the nanoparticles provide rheological and abrasive properties desirable in certain toothpaste formulations.