Nanotechnology-enhanced paints and coatings are already on the market. Several companies have collaborated to create a paint product that containes no toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and which has the additional functions of stopping algae and fungal growth while also destroying bacteria the come in contact with it (link). The initial application is intended to be doctor’s offices, clinics, and hospitals, but I am sure there will be other uses such as biological laboratories and even breweries and wineries, where the intrusion of unwanted microorganisms can cause serious production and quality problems. A Wired magazine article from February of 2006 detailed a variety of other nanotechnology applications in the area of paint and coatings (link). Paint manufacturer Behr is now selling a line of kitchen and bath paints that resist stains and mildew (link), and giant Dupont is getting into the act with paints that cure in seconds under ultraviolet light and have enhanced properties (link). In October 2007 Industrial Nanotech announced a line of nanotech-enhanced, thermally insulating paints that have the interesting property of generating electricity from the difference in temperature between the two sides of the surface they are coating (link). These new products are just a beginning, however.
More sophisticated developments in paint can be expected as nanotechnology matures. One of the big problems with maintaining painted wood structures is that once moisture penetrates the wood it can damage it before it can be dried out, and moisture that gets behind a 99% painted surface won’t dry out quickly enough to avoid dry rot and destruction of the wood itself. Could a more sophisticated nanotechnology-enhanced paint not only penetrate the fine cracks in the existing paint, but change water molecules encountered in the wood to stop the damage process? Could nanobots identify and change molecules that are the result of damage to the wood? Could they link together to form a strong matrix, anchored into the damaged area, and restrengthen the wood while preventing further incursion of moisture?
Other materials besides wood could benefit from nanotechnology-enhanced paint. One of the problems in handling and storage of raw steel products is surface rust, which must be removed before the steel can be painted for its final use. Could a nanotechnology-enhanced spray coating automatically spread out to coat all surfaces of the steel exposed to air and moisture, de-oxidize surface rust to convert it back into something much closer to the original iron or steel, and then be easily removed when the metal needed to be cleaned and coated for its final use?
More advanced nanotechnology really sounds like science fiction, but could be of great benefit. In a previous entry I wrote here titled “Will Nanotechnology Provide Us Black Houses That Generate and Store Electricity?” I speculated on self-assembling nanotechnology paints that integrate solar cell technology into the paint, and include a back layer that comprises a battery where it can store the electricity generated. On the scale at which paint can be manufactured and applied, this could be a much lower cost way to provide alternative electricity generation than currently-expensive solar panels. I priced a solar panel out and ran calculations on line (link) to see how long it would take to pay it off at my current electrical rates, and the time involved was nearly 50 years. That would be very hard to justify. I do have to paint my house every so often anyway, however, and economies of scale in the paint business can be enormous, so I speculate that much more sophisticated paint systems may be available within a decade or two. It looks like we will need them.
As always, I welcome your comments. – Tim