A checklist needs to be prepared that would be required by the end user to ensure adequate protection of human life and the environment. Nanotechnology can also help in the detection and prevention of fires. The technology seems to be promising with various applications. However, only if the stakeholders become more interested would this technology become cheaper and permit more extensive use. Introduction Due to the serious impact of fire on the mortality, morbidity (burns, etc) and the losses to property, there is an urgent need for fire protection considering the overcrowding in cities and the serious impact of fires on the environment.
In the year 2003, about 70 billion Euros were lost over fire damages, and hence, people are trying to build fire resistant buildings with both active and passive features (Innovations Report, 2004). Nanotechnology currently has a very small market segment as more and more fire-resistant materials and electronics are being used to tackle fire problems. In the Beijing Olympics concluded in the year 2008, fire protection was adequately provided in various sports construction sites by the use of Nanotechnology. There are more than 48 different applications in fire protection with nanotechnology.
Some of the common applications required in fire protection include smoke detectors, alarm systems, resistant building material, etc, and nanotechnology has held strong promises in curbing some of the problems of the future (Innovations Report, 2004). In the year 2004, the nanotechnology market in the fire segment was 30 billion dollars, and is expected to almost double within a decade of introduction. As molecules can appropriately be modified to make them more fire-resistant, companies around the world are increasingly creating these modifications. Each year the nanotechnology market grows by about 25%.
Nanotechnology is also said to be environmentally-friendly. China is said to be the current leader in the use of nanotechnology in fire protection (Innovations Report, 2004). The EPA is also supporting research in the use of nanotechnology for fire protection and safety. In February 2007, the EPA published a White paper on Nanotechnology and considered the same to help in preventing pollution to the environment. The White paper also focused on responsible use of nanotechnology by using recycling of the same and also ensures that the same was not toxic to the populations (EPA, 2007).
Using nanotechnology has several advantages in reducing pollution & ill-effects on the environment:- 1. Reducing any waste substances that are released into the environment, 2. Using substances that are not so toxic, 3. Using conservative methods that could effectively reduce pollution and also recycling and reusing material, thus effectively preventing wastes 4. Increase in the general surface area of the article 5. Improvement in the strength of the material without considerable increase in the weight 6. Materials that use less raw materials and lesser electricity during manufacture
7. Changes to the electrical conductivity, color and opaqucity of the materials 8. Products that are used become less self-cleansing can be used 9. there would be a reduced need to have chemicals that would retard flames and fires 10. Components that are used in construction of automobiles can become more resistant to wear and tear, erosion and fatigue 11. Nanoscale catalysts can effectively help to reduce pollution 12. using the nanoscale catalysts, raw materials would be utilized more efficiently and reduced amounts of wastes would be generated (EPA, 2007)
Advantages of Nanotechnology with reference to fire protection Body Nanotechnology involves the use small particles of materials or manipulating them in such a way that their properties would be enhanced, with potential application on a larger scale especially for construction purposes. Nanotechnology involves creating these modifications at ten to the power of -9 of a meter or the nanometer level. It is a new science with more recent applications and can be considered to be an extension of work that has been occurring on a microscopic level (micrometer).
Processes and products with concrete, steel, glass, and composites are using nanotechnology. The concrete that would be used can be manipulated easily and is more durable, stronger and environmentally-friendly. Steel and glass can become tougher. Once, these materials are stronger, durable, and tougher, and their manipulation is improved, the impact on the environment would also be positive as the materials are more efficient. Not only is the process of manufacture improved by using nanotechnology, but also during actual fabrication or manipulation at the construction site (Mann, 2006).
Most of the nanotechnology applications have been held back due to the limitations in costs. Nanotechnology is quite expensive for the modern world to incorporate due to the infancy of technology. With costs of using the same very high and rather very limited applications, many people prefer ignoring nanotechnology, resulting in isolation. Researchers feel that within the next five years, there could be significant use of nanotechnology in the field of constructions and others, such that application of the same would not be so exorbitant.
Nanotechnology at the moment requires strong funding for research and motivation. The government needs to take an active role in the same with interest in improving the current environmental degradation. Besides, researchers and the industry need to collaborate more strongly. There should be a strong thirst for innovation such that nanotechnology should be applied with greater force (Mann, 2006). With the introduction of any kind of new technology, importance should be given to the life-cycle of the products, toxicity of the product and exposure that could be occurring to both humans and others in the environment.
With relation to the life-cycle several factors need to be taken into consideration including design, level of production, application of the product, disposal, disintegration in the environment, etc. At the users end, a checklist need to be utilized that would ensure that enough of prevention is taking place in protecting the environment and human life. Some of the queries that can form a part of this checklist include:- ? Steps need to be taken to reduce the unintended consequences of the life-cycle of the product ? Real-time application of the products that can prevent pollution
? Barriers that are present for adopting nanotechnology in the modern world ? Methods of overcoming these barriers ? Areas of nanotechnology in which further research needs to be performed ? Manner in which the beneficial properties of nanotechnology can be used to create innovative products that can reduce pollution ? Role the regulatory bodies, courts and the government can perform (EPA, 2007) Today, the walls of homes and offices have huge amounts of lead in the paints and often this can be toxic during use or disposal.
Nanotechnology and nanoengineering can help improve the composition of these materials such that they are less toxic to human health and the environment. Today, the impact of floods and erosion beaches are very critical considering the ill-effects of global warming. By changing the way natural materials function at the nanoscale, their environmental-friendliness can be improved (EPA, 2007). Not only would nanotechnology help in reducing the carbon dioxide levels by changing how the material works at the nanoscale, but also help the way in which a building is using energy (EPA, 2007).
The same modification to cement can effectively help in fire protection as spray-on coats. The present cements that are being used are very brittle and need polymers to make them more adhesive. With modifications at the nanoscale to cement, they are stronger, more durable and can tolerate high temperatures when present in coats. Effectively carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are mixed with cement material to mimic something similar to composites with high strength. Another option instead of using CNTs is polypropylene which is a cheaper option and can improve fire protection (Mann, 2006).
Using nanotechnology, better solar cells can be manufactured that are more efficient and cheaper. Besides, nanotechnology can help in heat recovery and also in treatment of water and air at the building. However, these technologies are not current and scientists are suggesting that they can be used, although we have already woken up to the dawn of the future (EPA, 2007). The self-assembly of buildings can be improved using nanotechnology. Molecules can be designed into complementary shapes such that they produce only minimum energy, which effectively helps in fire prevetion (Mann, 2006).
Nanotechnology also plays an important role in fire hazard management and prevention. Today having a nanocomposite as one of the materials present in the flame retardant has been considered an advantage. Cross linked systems that provide polyureas and polyurethane foams seem effective in controlling fires. Another new tool that has been developed to combat flames is confocal microscopy (used in chemical analysis and material testing by collecting the light that is in focus and excluding light out of focus) (Leica, 2010).
Previously, all the flame retardant systems had certain toxic components that could harm human life and have a negative effect on the environment. However, flexible and rigid polyurethane structures have been used in a number of applications such as furniture, mattresses, carpets, cars, aircrafts, etc. By altering them at the nanoscale, their resistance to fire can be improved. Previously, the open cell structures of the foams prevented stability during fire fighting. Even additives that increase the foam stability would have a negative effect on the environment.
These additives include halogens and phosphorus based compounds that have a negative effect over human health. As most of these substances are volatile, during fire fighting, the high temperature would cause evaporation of these materials causing more damage to the environment (EPA, 2007). Nanotechnology can also be used to develop nano-electromechanical systems and circuitry that would connect detectors at various places in the buildings. The nano-devices would be effectively embedded into surfaces and would be able to detect fire easily (Mann, 2006).
Another application of nanotechnology for fire protection is in nanoclays that can help to lower the rate at which plastics burn as it can increase the char forming abilities and prevents plastics from melting and dripping. When used along with other flame retardants, there is more effective fire retardation (EPA, 2007). With regards to fire protection specifically certain queries need to be answered in the checklist:- ? Extracting of raw materials during processing should not be damaging to the environment ? Emission of nanomaterial to the environment ? Reaction or additives to polymers
? Nanomaterials properties during use ? Exposure of nanomaterials to the industrial workers during manufacture ? Reaction of nanomaterials to light, heat, dust, etc ? Ability to recycle the nanomaterials ? Protection of workers during manufacture ? Nanomaterials during combustion and burning ? Ability to transport the nanomaterial ? Effects of exposing the user to nanomaterial A company by name GreenShield FR has developed a nanomaterial treatment for several groups of materials including polyester so that the material can become fire resistant as well as provide protection from water and staining.
There are three sets of coat which are applied of the nanomaterial onto the surface. The first layer helps the nanomaterial to adhere to the parent material. The second layer offers repellency and self-cleansing action, and the third layer offers fire-resistance. At the end, the entire material is non-flammable. When these materials degrade they do not release any kind of toxic material into the environment. Nanoclays on the other hand help to lower the amount of energy that is liberated during fire. The nanoclays prevent the materials from bursting and disintegrating and further adding to the fire that has been activated.
Nanoclays ensures that the materials burn slowly and at a lower temperature and can work along with several fire retardants (Betts, 2008). Conclusion Nanotechnology is offering strong promises to the field of fire protection, although very little is being utilized today due to the exorbitant costs of nanomaterials. However, these materials are not only more effective and safer, but also more environmentally-friendly. Within the next five years, with greater innovations and understanding of nanotechnology it would be easier to use this technology.
Using nanotechnology, materials not only become fire-resistant but also stronger, durable and better self-cleansing. Using nanotechnology, fire cannot only be prevented and retarded, but also monitored and detected using nano-electromechanical detectors. The future for nanotechnology looks good, but researchers and academic organizations should continue with their search to make this technology more affordable and effective. References Betts K. S. (2008). New Thinking on Flame Retardants. Environ Health Perspect. 2008
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