Nanotechnology is a very fashionable term at present however many people don’t know exactly what it is or its benefits. The tile and stone industry is about to embark on a program of research and development that will spawn many nano products the first of which is introduced to the market in November by Aqua Mix. So it makes sense to try and understand exactly what this technology is and how it will benefit and indeed change our industry.
In short nanotechnology is a field of applied science dedicated to the manipulation and synthesis of materials on a nanoscale. Until recently man has worked with materials on a scale measured in microns (one millionth of a metre). However in 1959 American Richard Feynman wrote a paper where he discussed the advantages of developing a system to work with particles on the molecular scale. The potential of such a process would be to create new materials and products that could defy some of the norms of science such as the force of gravity as well as changing the way colloidal materials reacted to the laws governing surface tension.
In 1974 the term nanotechnology was first used by Japanese university professor Nori Taniguchi to describe the processes of working with materials on an atomic scale – a nanoscale – one billionth of a meter.
The main advantage is the ability to build new compounds and products using much smaller building blocks allowing new flexibility in material design. It was also found that materials re-engineered to nanoscale exhibit very different characteristics and properties than they exhibit on a macro scale. For example copper an opaque material becomes transparent; normally stable aluminium becomes combustible and solids such as gold can turn into liquids at just room temperature. Much of this is due to the change in the way surface tension and ionic attraction works in nanoscale where there is a dramatic increase in the ratio of surface area to volume. This phenomenon is called the “quantum” size effect where the electronic properties of solids are altered when in a nano state. Technologies such as the atomic force microscope, scanning tunnelling microscope and electron beam lithography have all contributed to the ability of man to formulate and process materials in nanoscale.
It is important to distinguish the term nano as a reference to a scale of measurement and process of product formulation and manipulation rather than nano being an actual product itself. Many people I have talked to discuss nano as if it is a product and in doing so think all nano products have the same benefits. Each nano product still uses a particular formulation of materials designed for a certain task. Nano is simply the term used to describe the process of manufacturing or formulating the materials on an atomic scale. The result of utilising nanotechnology is and should be improved performance over a similar product made using the same materials but with macro sized particles.
When using the term nanostructures you need to differentiate between the number of dimensions on the nanoscale. Nano textured structures have one dimension on the nanoscale that of thickness; Nanotubes have two dimensions, diameter and thickness and nanoparticles have three, thickness, diameter and length. It is the three dimensional particles that offer the most performance and are the ones used in most of the new surface chemistry associated with our industry. It is also the nanotechnology utilised in the newest and first nano product from Aqua Mix.
Why does nanotechnology work in the world of tile and stone? In simple terms the environment of stone and tile is a very small macro environment. Tiles such as porcelain have very small micro sized pores that create issues with cleaning as well as sealing. The high energy surfaces of tile and stone also create problems with the ability of sealers to penetrate and bond as the energy makes it difficult for both solvent and water carriers to completely work their way sub surface. This same energy also makes it difficult for cleaners to break down the surface tension of contaminants. Nanotechnology with a higher ratio of surface area to volume allows better manipulation of surface tension and hence the production of low energy products with vastly better sealing and cleaning properties managed by improving their ability to move sub-surface. This same increased surface area: volume ratio also helps in formulating better catalysts that will assist in combining characteristics in otherwise incompatible materials. Imagine a product that can seal a stone in the presence of water or a cleaner that can remove a sealer without the need for a solvent and at the same time safely remove cement from polished marble as well as rust from a cement surface all without creating any damage. These seemingly incompatible characteristics are all feasible with the use of nano design and nanotechnology.
Aqua Mix will be the first in our industry to introduce a fully developed nano product. As already stated the surface environment of stone and especially porcelain tile is a micro one making it difficult to extract optimum performance from the current crop of macro formulated sealers and cleaners. Aqua Mix intends on changing this. The first new nanotechnology product from Aqua Mix will change the way we use and look at maintenance for tile and stone.