Taking The NanoPulse -- Nanotech-Enhanced Driving: Expect More

May 8, 2006
Consumers will expect more from a car -- and they will get it.

In the U.S., there are 3 cars for every 4 people. Yes, Americans have a love affair with driving. Our issues? Fuel economy, safety, good looks -- not necessarily in that order. Nanotechnology is geared up to take automotive technology where you want to go, and maybe farther than you thought possible. So hop in, buckle up and let's test drive this technology to see what it can do.

Let's start with one of today's hottest topics: high fuel costs. Nanotechnology takes on the problem in a number of ways. First, there are lighter materials to take weight out of the car. One auto giant switched from a car component that included 25% filler material to 2.5% nanomaterial, removing weight and adding strength and durability in the bargain.

Another research report suggests nanomaterials in aluminum and magnesium can reduce weight nearly 25% enabling correlating improvements in fuel economy.

Future applications will likely include parts made from new ceramics and plastics that combine light weight with a higher strength. And I guarantee you that within the decade, nanotechnology will be taking weight out of that 50-pound car battery under your hood with new nanomaterials.

Now go further! To take out gas-guzzling weight, one automaker says, "Get those heavy motors out of my car!" What he means is, can a windshield coating eliminate fog and ice -- and the weight of a defroster system? Now multiply that possibility by the dozens and dozens of motors in a car that could be made obsolete.

What about getting more mileage out of the fuel itself? Nano-lubricants can reduce friction, converting engine power to motion instead of heat. In fact, some predict that nanocoatings on engine parts may someday replace lubricants altogether.

Nanotechnology can also help reduce auto emissions while it boosts mileage, too. By one account, today's fuel filters, meant to trap deposits and pollutants, also cut fuel efficiency. By formulating nanomaterials into fuel additives, the same work can be done chemically, perhaps increasing fuel efficiency by as much as 10%.

So now that you're driving farther for less, let's talk about how you get there more safely with nanotechnology. First, take a quick backtrack to the anti-fog, anti-rain, anti-ice coatings for windshields. Nanofilm's research on our own coatings says better visibility can add 88 feet to driver response time on a rainy night. Similar coatings for headlamps keep them clean and scratch-free -- another long-lasting visual safety benefit. You can expect to see with clarity -- all the time.

The safety advantages of better-handling vehicles is also on the horizon, thanks to improved suspension systems. Imagine injecting iron-based particles into suspension fluids which can create a magnetic field that changes the viscosity of the suspension fluid. The system can now sense particular conditions and react with suspension system adjustments. As a final safety and health touch, the technology exists today to put a nano-based anti-bacterial into the surface of a steering wheel. Wouldn't that be nice on your next rental car?

Now let's peak around the corner and look a few years ahead at the smart displays that will also improve the driving experience. Right now 47% of car models offer navigation systems, and one company is showing a "virtual dashboard" that displays all driver instrumentation, including a rearview image. Nanotechnology plays a role in the miniaturization of the electronics, weight reduction and the display's surface clarity and durability.

It's hard to remember now, but once-upon-a-time we traded in our cars every two or three years because they didn't have much more life in them than that. Today, we're just breaking a car in at 50,000 miles. Nanotechnology will continue to add to cars' life expectancy. Body paints and coatings that incorporate nanomaterials help preserve the body against the elements and bumps and bruises of everyday driving. A single nano-coating may offer the protection of three layers of paint. One company describes nanocomposite coatings using particles small enough to be applied with conventional spraying equipment. With a flash of ultraviolet light, the coating becomes a thin, durable plastic barrier that seals out the elements. And can the 150,000-mile tire become a reality? Nano-clays and polymers will be replacing carbon black for increased wear-resistance.

Nice ride, right? And the road from here looks long, straight and smooth. So, as you step out of the nano-mobile, don't just think about transportation. Go further! Ask yourself this: how can nanotechnology drive your business?

Scott E. Rickert is chief executive of Nanofilm, Ltd., located in Valley View, Ohio. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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