From Transparent Solar Cells to Self-Repairing Paint Systems: Anyone buying a new mid-range car every few years will discover new fun features every time – many of them based on nanotechnology: Nano-impregnated upholstery, for example, allows liquids to roll off surfaces without leaving traces behind. Or the latest display technology, such as in the on-board computer or navigation system based on organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs, with sharper colors than ever before, which are even clearly legible in bright sunshine. This development is another success for nanotechnology.
Scratch-resistant and self-repairing paints
The same applies to the particularly high-quality paints, which often come at extra cost. After all, the shining outer surface, the clear coat, is enriched with miniscule quartz particles that enhance the paint’s scratch resistance. Thanks to sophisticated processing, paint specialists are able to disperse the particles homogeneously over the surface.
Scratch-resistant car paints have long been a dream, which has now at least partly come true. The next step in the future of nanotechnology is self-repairing systems that can even “heal” their own “wounds.” This is due to ceramic nanoparticles in connection with a flexible polymer matrix. This system can close at least those scratches that are not too deep.
Equally sophisticated are paints that adjust the coating’s reflective properties and heat absorption characteristics during times of strong sunshine in order to absorb less heat. This is easier on the air-conditioning system and saves fuel. Heat-reflective paints of this kind are already commercially available.
Nano fillers in rubber
What a lot of car owners don’t know is that nanotechnology has already been around for years in various applications. Nanoscale fillers such as carbon black and silica, which account for approx. 30% of tire mixtures, are essential if rubber is to have the required properties such as grip, abrasion resistance, tear and tear propagation resistance.
As the components, natural rubber and silica, cannot bind in rubber due to their different chemical properties, they are helped by bifunctional organic silicon compounds, known as organosilanes for short. Although these bridge molecules, which bind the other two substances, have only been available on the market for a few years, they are being used more and more frequently. All three fillers are so effective because they are so nano-small and have high surface areas.
Nano-adhesives instead of welding
Nanotechnology also already plays an important part in car manufacturing. In this case, gluing together large numbers of parts is state of the art. Nanotechnology even makes it possible to glue parts on command. Ferrites – enriched iron oxides which have a diameter of no more than ten nanometers – play a critical role here. These nanoparticles ensure that the adhesive coating is heated evenly and directly by microwaves, thus creating a top-quality adhesive process.
Solar cells, light-emitting diodes and reflective foils
A glimpse of the future: There are a lot of new ideas in the world of nanotechnology that have already been on display at the International Motor Show (IAA) and which could become reality in the next model. Transparent organic solar cells, transparent and energy-saving light-emitting diodes and infrared light-reflecting foils are only a few of the components used for the first time in the Smart Forvision and presented at the IAA in September 2011.
The hexagonal surfaces on the vehicle roof are particularly noteworthy. These are evenly translucent – a world first – and use the incoming light to generate electricity, which can operate the multimedia components as well as three ventilators inside the vehicle. In technological terms, the special solar cells are based on organic, nano-format dye molecules. Another nano innovation is installed directly under the solar cells: Transparent organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), which light up the inside of the vehicle when the door is opened or at the push of a button, while ensuring outside visibility.
Innovative foils create a special heat shield in the windshield and side windows that keeps the sun’s incoming heat outside the vehicle. The highly transparent non-metallic foil, which is placed between the layers of safety glass, ensures a level of reflection of the heat and the sun’s rays never achieved before. At the same time, it allows radio waves to pass through, making it possible to use GPS, Bluetooth and cell phones. All these innovations will soon appear in series model vehicles, which is something to start looking forward to now.
Less fuel and increased safety thanks to nanotechnology
Windows and mirrors that automatically adjust to the light conditions, easy-to-clean coatings for perfect visibility at all times, sensors that predictively change the driving status in accordance with the weather and collision risk – all in all numerous nanotechnological innovations are set to reduce fuel consumption, increase driving safety and enhance longevity.
Reductions in fuel consumption and pollutant emissions are being optimized on an ongoing basis. This is one way to produce vehicles that are as light as possible. What are needed are high-strength steels that allow thinner sheets of metal to be used, thus reducing weight. Embedded nanoparticles made of metal carbon nitrides increase the continuous loading capacity of steel many times over.
Namos GmbH, a Dresden-based portfolio company of Nanostart, can also make an important contribution to greater environmental compatibility. The use of Namos technology, based on bionanotechnological coating of the ceramic catalytic converter support materials, can lead to savings of approximately 50% of precious metals such as platinum, the mining of which also impacts heavily on the environment. This newsletter contains a recent interview with CEO Dr. Jürgen Hofinger.
The car in particular is becoming a “playground” for nanotechnology – the trend to miniscule sizes will increase with every new vehicle generation. The future too holds plenty of surprises.
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