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Nanomaterials in Industry

The unique properties of nanomaterials make them ideal for use in countless applications. From diagnostics to batteries to construction, nanomaterials can improve the properties of the original matrix material or offer totally new materials and products. The use of nanomaterials in many industries can pose severe health risks for millions of employees along the value chain.

Below you can find a short overview of some industries using nanomaterials.

Plastics

Plastics

Nanofibers are used to enhance polymer composites with stronger mechanical, electrical or thermal properties. The demand for lightweight materials with high tensile strength is strong and growing in the aerospace and automotive industry. The adoption of composite material in airplanes can reduce fuel consumption by 25%, lowering costs and reducing CO2 emission.

Applications incorporating conductive nanofibers like CNTs to enhance electrical properties like in conductive plastic or transparent conductive foils have been introduced to the market.

Elastomers with nanofibers or nanoplatelets as filler exhibit superior mechanical, thermal and electrical properties than materials with standard fillers.

The use of large quantities of composite materials and the often-necessary post-processing required in the composite industry create a high exposure likelihood in several process steps along the value chain.

Batteries

Batteries

The large surface area of nanofibers and nanoplatelets can increase the storage capacity and reduce the weight of batteries and capacitors, making them ideal materials for the battery industry.

The demand for electrical mobility and off-grid solar power are among some of the drivers for the massive growth in the use of nanomaterials in those industries.

Potential exposure is possible in different life cycle stages, from production to recycling.

Electronics

Electronics

The extraordinary electrical properties of carbon nanotubes make them ideal for the use in electrical and electronic applications such as semiconductor devices, photovoltaic cells, sensors, displays, conductors, printable electronics and smart textiles. Nanomaterials will play a significant role in flexible and wearable electronics.

Some of the applications are still in the R&D phase while others are already in mass production.

Field studies have shown significant exposure levels in workers in electronic production settings.

Construction

Construction

Particle release has been part of the construction industry since ancient times. The associated health issues like silicosis are among the most common work-related diseases.

The use of nanotechnology is relatively new in civil engineering and the construction industry.

The modification of the construction material with nanoparticles improves the properties and leads to better structures. For example, adding carbon-nanofibers to concrete can improve the mechanical properties, increase resistance to water penetration and improve the fatigue resistance of concrete.

The large numbers of workers in the construction industry need to be protected by monitoring their daily exposure.

3D Printing

Additive manufacturing / 3D Printing

Additive manufacturing has grown from a niche application in prototyping to a widespread technology to produce high value products.

Major industries like automotive and aerospace are experimenting with this technology. To provide the required properties of the produced parts, the material used for printing often needs to be enhanced with nanofibers or nanoplatelets. The risk of potentially harmful exposure is part of several ongoing studies.

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