Nanotechnologies in materials and plastics

Nanotechnologies enable a wide range of new possibilities in the field of plastics and materials, both in terms of production and material properties. There is a large number of materials and methods used. Some widely-used applications are presented below.

Nanotechnologies in plastics

Nanotechnologies are used in the production and processing of plastics:

  • to reinforce them with nanoparticles
  • to provide them with nanoscale structures or layers
  • in order to improve their flow behavior
  • or to make them flame-retardant

The most prominent example of so-called nanocomposites are carbon nanotube (CNT) reinforced polymers (e.g. epoxy resins). CNTs make plastics stronger and give them good conductivity or antistatic properties. The spectrum of plastics used for nanotechnologies is almost unlimited. For example, polyamides and polyesters can be modified with nanomaterials. Nanomaterials in plastics range from CNT to carbon black and from glass fibers to biogenic materials such as cellulose fibers and corn starch (Greßler et al., 2011). Nanocomposites are used for applications such as sports equipment (bicycle frames, tennis racquets) or in other industries such as the automotive or packaging industry.

Applications for piezoelectric, electroactive, photo-, thermo- and electrochromic polymers are currently under development.

Nanocrystalline ceramics

Nanotechnologies enable considerable weight saving in ceramic materials. In nanocrystalline ceramics zirconium, magnesium or silicon nitrides and carbides are used. They are produced using a modified CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition) process in which nanoparticles grow by coagulation of aerosols and sintering processes.

Nanotechnologies in metal processing

In the metal industry, nanotechnologies are mainly used for surface treatment (e.g. corrosion, scratch or heat protection). Nanoparticles such as oxidic nanoparticles (usually made of zirconium or silicon dioxide) serve as an alternative to conventional corrosion protection.

Nanotechnologies can also be used in the production and processing of steel. Nano steel, for example, contains embedded metallic carbon nitride nanoparticles and has outstanding static properties. Nanotechnologies are also used in the shaping of steel. For example, in the use of glass- and plastic-like nanomaterials to form a protective coating against scaling (Hessen Nanotech Volume 3).

A further example worth mentioning are metal-matrix composites (MMC), which have better formability and resistance thanks to nanoscale structures.