The world of dwarves

Suddenly, everyone is talking about nanotechnology. It sounds like the future, like moving to a better world. Or, at least, a smaller one.

After all, nanotechnology focuses on researching and utilizing minute particles, whose name is derived from the Greek word "nanos," for dwarf. A nano is a millionth of a millimeter, or approximately 2,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. What does this miniature world have to offer? Why do we place such high hopes in this technology? And, will it help to protect our environment?

In principle, it is important to know that material properties change when material is decreased to a size of one to one hundred nanometers, and that the properties of nanoparticles depend on the utilized materials. Consequently, if ALTANA wants to improve the properties of coatings and plastics, it has to look at the materials used for this process. If coatings are to be scratchproof and color-proof, be easy to spread, or make surfaces harder, materials such as quartz, diamonds or silica can be used in nano sizes.

Nanoparticles can be used to influence properties such as abrasion resistance, UV protection, magnetism, conductivity or heat and flame protection. For ALTANA, this means the capability to make more functional or completely new products. In spite of the immensely high cost of research, ALTANA is convinced of the success and advantages of "dwarfdom." "Thanks to this innovative technology, we can offer new products in all Divisions, which represent an expedient addition to our existing product portfolio," says Dr. Thomas Sawitowski, the head of the Nano Program at ALTANA. "This helps us create considerable added value for our customers."

Nanotechnology not only has economic advantages, but also environmental benefits. At the mention of nanotechnology, most people may think of the well-known lotus effect, which prevents dirt and liquids from clinging to a surface and lets it appear clean all the time. However, this effect is actually taking place in the micro range. Although self-cleaning automotive coatings, which could help save enormous quantities of water and detergents, are not yet on the market, additives that significantly improve the scratch and abrasion resistance of coated surfaces and help maintain value are actually available.

There are numerous other sustainable applications of nanoparticles. Thus, they can enhance the insulating properties of insulating coatings, which could reduce the consumption of wire enamels, or protect coated hardwood floors from mechanical impact. The public generally tends to be critical of new technologies, and debates the risks associated with nanotechnology. "We are following the discussion very closely to respond to possible risks and hazards right away," says Dr. Sawitowski. ALTANA takes its product safety responsibility for humans and the environment very seriously. Together with the American nanoparticles specialist Nanophase Technologies, which has been in a partnership with ALTANA for three years, the company is developing processes and procedures that offer maximum safety for employees and customers alike.