21 Sep 2017

Introduction to Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is the branch of technology that deals with dimensions at a nanoscale, i.e., about 1 to 100 nanometers. To give you a scale of how small that is, the width of the hair on our scalp is somewhere between 60,000-120,000 nm. Fig. 1 captures the scale of several other living and non-living things with illustrations to highlight the scale.

The Scale of Things

Unlike in their regular size, materials at a nanoscale tend to have a higher strength, lighter weight, increased control of light spectrum, and a greater chemical reactivity than their larger-scale counterparts. Researchers and technologists try to capitalize on this shift in properties for diverse applications. Nanotechnology has applications across varied branches of science such as organic chemistry, molecular biology, farming and agriculture, micro fabrication, and molecular engineering to name a few. Since nanoparticles have a high surface area, sorption capacity, and controlled-release kinetics to targeted site they are also frequently used as delivery systems.

Nanofertilizers – A Thriving Discipline
One of the applications of nanotechnology that is trending in agricultural circles these days is the niche area of nanofertilizers. Chemical fertilizers, which have been the most commonly used fertilizers so far, are not suitable for the long run because although they increase the crop production, they disturb the soil mineral balance and decrease soil fertility. Large-scale application of chemical fertilizers results in an irreparable damage to the microbial flora of the soil, plants, and even more on the food chains across ecosystems. This may result in mutations that could be passed on to consumers and may affect future generations.

Flowchart highlightingthe need for Nanofertilizers

Nanofertilizer- Applications and Uses
In agriculture, nanofertilizers are used for diverse applications. They have a role in soil and environmental pollution control; they help in the efficient uptake of micronutrients by crops using slow release mechanisms. They also have applications in cost cutting due to the reduction in volume of fertilizer required for desired effect. Fig. 3 highlights the areas of focus of patents filed during the last decade.

number of filed patent families

Soil and Environment related applications
Research into nanofertilizers that avoid deterioration of soil is on the rise. Analysts at Effectual observed an increase in patent filings towards this objective, especially in the year 2015 to address various disadvantages caused by chemical fertilizers (Fig. 3). Nanofertilizers leave lesser soil footprint and so the natural mineral present in the soil are retained.

Fertilizer nutrients and residues in soil can sometimes run off into coastal waters, lakes and streams, resulting in eutrophication of the water body. Nanofertilizers avoid such consequences by slow release of the nutrients into the soil.

Another major disadvantage observed while using regular fertilizers is the decomposition of carbon containing fertilizers. Carbon Nanofertilizers can be used to reduce the decomposition of carbon containing fertilizers and thereby cause reduction in green house gas emission.

Nanofertilizers increase the retention of nutrient in the soil through the extent of the sorption which is controlled by physical and chemical properties of both the fertilizer and the soil and this directly reduces water pollution. According to Fig. 3, the focus of nanofertilizer research towards reducing environmental pollution was highest among patent filings in 2014.

Nutrients and Application area
One of the main advantages of nanofertilizers when compared to their regular sized counterparts is the effective delivery of nutrients to the crops. Trace elements and minerals used in nanofertilizers are more ready for easy absorption by crops. Effectual Services identified several minerals being used in nanofertilizers such as Selenium, Clay mineral, medical stone, tourmaline, zeolite, titanium dioxide, germanium, silver and gold.

Based on the sorption studies done on fertilizers, each element has a different application area. Sometimes the same element has more than one application area. The mostly commonly observed areas of application were fruits, leaves, Seeds or grains, tubers, roots and flowers.

Elements and their Application Areas

Limitations
Although research in nanofertilizers continues to grow and advance, there are limitations that act as barriers to the pace of advancement. Many studies that examine the effect of a particular nanofertilizer, lack detailed physical characterization of the particles. Parameters such as monodispersity of the particle, size of the particle, and surface chemistry could even lead to contrasting effects while using the same nanomaterial. The lack of proper standardized studies in the field has led to the absence of research to fall back on while developing new technologies. To establish credibility throughout, it is suggested that a universal definition of nanoscale be followed across the fertilizer industry. This lack of standardized terminology in research acts as a limiting factor to progress in the technology.

Conclusion
Since nanofertilizer is still a nascent technology, it is not yet fully clear what implications it could have on human health and environment in the long run. It is difficult to put a finger on how the technology will pan out in the near future. However, there is a potential for research and development since initial studies in the field seem to indicate positive outcomes with little negative impact on the environment. Researchers and environmental regulators have to work hand in hand to make progress in the field for a better future for all of us.

About us
Effectual Services is a leading Intellectual Property (IP) management advisory firm offering IP support solutions to Fortune 500 companies, law firms, research institutes, universities, and venture capital firms/PE firms. Our team comprises of multi-disciplinary experts with rich experience in handling complex patent assignments in such domains as Alternative Energy, Automotive and Aerospace, Biomedical, etc. Effectual Services has technical and legal experts to handle every conceivable technology or situation and support at every stage of patent life cycle from drafting and prosecution to enforcement and litigation. Our firm’s clientele range from IP law firms, general law firms, patent licensing firms, patent brokers, legal departments at mid-sized companies, multinational conglomerates, research institutions and includes university and venture capital backed clients. We help our clients improve their business effectiveness and maximize ROI by leveraging deep domain expertise, engineering excellence, rock-solid execution and a comprehensive delivery model.

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