Hind A. Al-Abadleh
Some highlights from the Nano Ontario Conference at Queen's
The 4th Nano Ontario Conference was held at Queen's (Nov 7-8, 2013). There was a mix of keynote talks, selected research highlights from Ontario Universities, an industry panel on 'what drives innovation?', and a poster session.
On the environmental side, there was a talk on how silver nanoparticles that make their way to soil change bacterial population to the one that decreases nitrogen fixation, and increase funji dominance. This has implications on the life cycle of plants. Definitely, the environmental impact of nanomaterials, biotic and abiotic, is crucial to keep in mind at all times.
Another talk showed the synthesis and properties cellulose nanocrystals, the safest and non-toxic type of engineered nanomaterials with outstanding properties for applications in optics and personal care products. They're made of pulp and require acid hydrolysis with huge amount of sulfuric acid. It would be great to see this synthesis move to making these nanocrystals from agricultural waste, and find a way to recycle the acid and decrease the energy intensity of this manufacturing step.
In addition, recent development in making small, about 1 cm2, solar cell chips were shown based on nanowires made from group 3 and 5 of the periodic table of elements (In, Ga, P, As). This research is driven by the need to lower the cost of solar cell manufacturing be eliminating silicon and germanium from the mix without reduction in efficiency. Eventually, these chips will be coupled with proper optics in panels that use 'concentrated solar power' technology. The 'green' side of this R&D is that it eliminates the need to manufacture large area panels, and hence energy consumption and chemical waste during manufacturing is reduced. On an industrial scale, the improper disposal of devices that contain arsenic at the end of their life cycle might result in introducing pollutants to the environment. It would great to develop ways to extract these elements for recycling from electronic devices prior to their disposal.
Next year, the conference will be held at the University of Windsor.