Role of nanotechnology in agriculture & environmental protection

Over time we humans tried new techniques and methods to boost the output of products in agriculture. We invented new tools and methods for the sake of ease and to utilize every single second for optimum use of limited time. One of the approaches is to use nanotechnology in this field to enhance and protect our by-products.

Role of nanotechnology in agriculture & environmental protectionFor the last 10000 years, human civilization is dependent on agriculture. It is a broad term not only related to plants but also covering other stuff as animal husbandry, viticulture and fish farming etc.

Due to population explosion yield was not enough, so we must do measures to increase production exponentially. Nanotechnology finds its use in various stages other than production as processing, storing, packing and transport. Nanotechnology helps us in the efficient administration of pesticides and fertilizers. It helps to create new tools that can-do manipulations at molecular scale hence targeting very minute objectives as gene identification and cellular breakdown etc.

The ability of nano pesticides to be target-specific help us to kill pests but at the same time, they pose no harm to the beneficial insects like pollinators or that feed on other pests. Nano fertilizers are very efficient in term of delivering nutrients due to their small grain size and more surface area.

Apart from boosting the daily life activities nanotechnology can mitigate the effects of pollution that retard the yield quantity and quantity of our products. Nanostructured catalysts are now being used to tackle the hazardous pollutants. Nanotechnology is paving our way to secure our environment by removing oil spills or by using lightweight materials manufactured from nanotubes that are efficient due to less weight but at the same time are tough enough to handle the physical stress during an operation. Nano filters are being used to filter water so that bacteria can be trapped. It is a new approach, so we don’t know how it will react or work in the future it might have some drawbacks like DDT (dichloro diphenyl trichloroethane) about which we are unaware of

Role of nanotechnology in the industry
Oxygen if contact with stored food can spoil it and result in discoloration. By the aid of this technology we can make such synthetic plastic that ensure good packaging. This plastic is mixed with other materials creating a hurdle for oxygen penetration thus increasing the tenure for oxygen to reach food slowing down spoilage. Ethylene absorbing materials are produced that absorb this gas liberated from fruit thus shelf life can be expanded. Nano material can be made that are resistant to heat when coated on our desired product to protect it from the harsh environment as in the desert or the arid climate. Nano bar codes will also help us to label microbes that can be observed by fluorescent equipment.

Role of nanotechnology in recycling
Apart from gaining huge quantity of yield we must tackle with the undesirable waste generated from the agricultural sector. Nanotechnology can be a remedy. We can make micro fibres that are about 100 nano metres in diameter. When products are made from cotton always some part is left unused due to its minute quantity or small size. By using electron spin machine, we can produce these micro filaments which can be a good absorbent due to small size and more surface area.

These nano fibers are also being used as a coating on pesticides for an efficient application and make them durable. They can also be used against the pathogen as an identification agent as the hollow parts are embedded by specific antibodies so when placed on a surface it can identify a specific bacterium. Nano membranes are being made from waste materials to separate chemicals

Nano pesticides and nano fertilizers
The pesticides that were used or are still in use in agriculture have a lot of negative effects such as persistence, bio accumulation and bio magnification, for example, DDT was banned due to its persistence. Now researchers are striving to develop such chemicals or polymers at the nano scale that are target specific. Chemicals like organic polymers and surfactants are being used so that they don’t kill beneficial insects such as pollinators.
One of the benefits of nano fertilizers is that due to its small size it has more surface area as compared to traditional chemicals.

When these are applied they are quickly available hence less degradation lower amount used to result in various benefits from economical to better yield. Apart from making the particles of fertilizer small another approach can also be used as coating. In this approach, the nutrients are encapsulated by a thin film or delivered as emulsions resulting in slow release of chemical like a tea bag eventually increasing efficiency.

Nano filters
The gases that are being released from industry and vehicles contain heavy metals and oxides of sulphur or nitrogen etc. We can’t shut down industry or transport system, but we make sure the entrapment of these chemicals. Nano filters which have holes of nano scale can make sure the capturing of various lethal compounds and make sure they dont enter the ecosystem. The same procedure can be used for water by simply placing a nano-size filter so that it catches macro suspended particles along with some bacteria also. For treating water with high salt concentrations, we can boil it with filter so that steam passes by trapping the salts

Role of nanotechnology in agronomy
If things are done with precision the outcomes are enhanced and less time and economic resources are consumed. With the aid of Nano sensors, we can monitor agriculture i-e parts of the field are receiving less fertilizer, pesticide or water. By knowing about the condition, we can allocate our resource in such a way that each part of land get optimum chemicals etc. In the same way, we can perform physical manipulations as tillage by knowing these physical conditions of a field.

Nano sensors
The nano-sensors use the aggregation of technology and biology in which the sensor is a biological agent. Such sensors can be used for food security. Such sensors are placed in grain bins that can detect various chemicals secreted by pests or fungus thus giving an alarm for an invasion of harmful factors also they measure the intensity of chemical secreted thus giving us an idea about the degree of attack or effect. These can be linked with GPS so that they can be controlled or monitored by mobiles and computers from a distance.

Role of nanotechnology in animal sciences
This technology finds its application in animal sciences in various aspects. Vaccines, probiotics and medicines when delivered at the nano scale can be more efficient. At such a small scale, they can pass through various biological hurdles hence efficient action at the targeted site. Release of chemical at a proper time and self-regulatory action are some main important benefits. Silver which is a good antiseptic which work very efficiently when delivered at nano scale.

Nano particles are attached to membrane receptor cells hence destroy cancerous cells by rising temperature up to 55Co via infrared wave emission. Iron nano particles are also used to destroy cancerous cells by magnetic radiation. Breeding time assessment can be costly, so we use nano tubes under the skin that can detect hormonal changes as estrange levels.

Role of nanotechnology in the environment protection
Nanotechnology is playing a subordinate role in the protection of the environment. I said subordinate because the environmental engineering companies are not paying much heed towards the use of this technology but still, it has a lot of applications in recycling and saving raw materials, water and energy. It helps to mitigate the results of hazardous waste and tackling greenhouse effect. The electrical batteries when thrown in waste or dump sites they pollute the environment by releasing heavy metals.

Nanotechnology is now being used to recover pure zinc oxide nano particles from alkali batteries. Titanate a nano fiber is being used as absorbents for radioactive ions in water. Experiments are going on for the treatment of oil spills but it’s not in use on a global scale. Role of nanotechnology in water is mainly divided into the following categories -treatment, remediation, sensing, detection and pollution prevention.

CDI or capacitive deionization is a technology in which the water is cleaned by using flakes of graphite are used as electrodes for deionization. One of its advantages is that it has no secondary pollution.CO2 can be trapped and separately stored but it’s very laborious to do so but now nano membranes are being used to do the separation task

Miscellaneous uses of nanotechnology
There are other various uses of nanotechnology includes cheap production of electricity via using silicon nano tubes attached to a polymer that can generate electricity efficiently. The epoxy made by using carbon nano tubes hence result is more strong blades with less weight. It has been observed that iron nano particles can be used to decompose organic waste solvents. Organic chemicals pollute the water bodies but iron nano particles when spread efficiently can decompose them on site. This method is beneficial for underground water because of the efforts done to pump out of the ground. An oil spill can be a headache when it comes to its treatment in case of a spill.

Nanotechnology is also a good remedy for it, for example, photocatalytic copper tungsten oxide nano particles. These convert oil into biodegradable compounds these harness the power of sun and provide high surface area for reaction even in water. Just by increasing the surface area of platinum increasing the catalytic ability so that 80 per cent less fuel is consumed. Graphene is used to bind more hydrogen in a lighter weight fuel tank for hydrogen driven vehicles.

Aim of nanotechnology is to produce such materials that are not harmful to the environment. This can be achieved by using non-harmful ingredients and production at low temperature to conserve energy. Lightweight materials as in cars can save fuel. It plays a role in food security by increasing the shelf life and protect it from spoilage. It also protects food from microorganisms and fungi etc. Nano particles of silver can help in the reduction of waste generated in the manufacturing of propylene oxide.

Propylene is used in the manufacturing of plastics, paints, detergents and brake fluids because of silver act as a catalyst. But one thing we still don’t know is that how it will react with our environment after long-term use. It might act like fertilizers which are beneficial for one site but on other sites cause eutrophication as in water bodied to find out these questions we must wait for a while.

We cannot reverse the environmental cycles or undo all the anthropogenic activities. But experiments are being done to use nanotechnology to capture carbon dioxide from the environment and fix them in some source from which it cannot interact with our environment. To this date, this new technology has proven itself as a safe replacement for traditional chemicals and techniques.

By Mubashar hanif

Soil and environmental scientist Alhumdu lillah ❤️