The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the vulnerabilities of the human race despite all our progress. This article explores one of the few bright spots during these times, specifically how the epidemic has had a healing effect on Earth as a whole in terms of reduction of air pollution from fossil fuels. Through data collected from various sources, insight is shared into how advances in exponential technologies, especially nanotechnology will help in the fight against air pollution.
It is a fearsome menace, having immense ecological, health and societal consequences on a planetary scale. And no, I’m not talking about the COVID 19, but something that has been covering our azure skies with a thick blanket of smoke. I am talking about air pollution. But the irony of the current situation is that, while humanity suffers at the hands of the pandemic, Earth as a whole seems to be recuperating..
China is one of the world’s biggest contributors to air pollution. More than 25% of total Carbon Dioxide pollution stems from China. A study by Stanford University showed that China’s coronavirus lockdown likely saved tens of thousands of lives by slashing air pollution from factories and vehicles. The study further goes on to say that 2 months of pollution reduction, “likely saved the lives of 4000 kids under the age of 5 and 73000 adults over 70 in China”.The satellite image given below, shows the difference between the levels of pollution in China. No prizes for guessing which is prior and which is after the pandemic..
One of the most promising technologies to combat pollution is nanotechnology (i.e., engineering at the level of atoms and molecules).
Recent research into the applications of Nanotechnology, has shown promising results in combating air pollution. One method uses nano catalysts (nano catalysts work by speeding up reactions that convert harmful vapours into harmless gasses) to increase the surface area for gaseous exchange Specifically, a catalyst that has shown great promise is a nanofiber catalyst made of manganese oxide that removes volatile organic compounds from industrial smokestacks. Another approach involves using carbon nanotubes (which are small and porous) to separate gases like Carbon dioxide (CO2) and Methane (CH4) from exhausts of pollution emitting machines. This technology uses carbon nanotubes to trap gases at hundred times the rate of other methods being used today. This makes them exceptionally suited for large scale Industries such as coal, cement, petroleum and electricity generating industries which account for about 50 % of the air pollution today.
Nanotechnology also has a very useful role to play in energy conservation and renewable energy. As we all know, batteries contain harmful heavy metals such as lead, mercury, nickel and cadmium which can contaminate the environment and pose major health risks for us if disposed-off incorrectly. 
Hence, prolonging the life of batteries reduces the rate of their disposal and less contamination. Researchers at RICE University in the US have theorized and are starting to use carbon nanotubes to stop the growth of dendrites(tiny, rigid tree-like structures that can grow inside a lithium battery, which can damage it) on lithium metal anodes. This step may enable these batteries to have a higher capacity than their lithium ion counterpart and prolong battery life.
In conclusion, I believe that emerging technologies like nano technology have immense potential in supplementing our efforts to reduce air pollution and returning the earth back to its pollution free and natural colours.
- Ritchie, Hannah, and Max Roser. “China: CO2 Country Profile.” Our World in Data, June 11, 2020. https://ourworldindata.org/co2/country/china?country=~CHN.
- McMahon, Jeff. “Study: Coronavirus Lockdown Likely Saved 77,000 Lives In China Just By Reducing Pollution.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, March 22, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2020/03/16/coronavirus-lockdown-may-have-saved-77000-lives-in-china-just-from-pollution-reduction/.
- “Turning to Nanotechnology for Pollution Control: Applications of Nanoparticles.” Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science. Dartmouth, February 22, 2009. https://sites.dartmouth.edu/dujs/2009/02/22/turning-to-nanotechnology-for-pollution-control-applications-of-nanoparticles/.
- Peterson, John. “Environmental Pollution Caused by Factories.” Sciencing, March 2, 2019. https://sciencing.com/environmental-pollution-caused-by-factories-12071269.html.
- Berger, Michael. “Nanotechnology Could Make Battery Recycling Economically Attractive.” Nanowerk. Nanowerk, December 1, 2011. https://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=23592.php.
- Soutter, Will. “Nanotechnology in Batteries.” AZoNano.com, August 15, 2019. https://www.azonano.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=3042.
- Williams, Mike. “Nanotubes May Give the World Better Batteries.” Rice News, October 25, 2018. https://news.rice.edu/2018/10/25/nanotubes-may-give-the-world-better-batteries-2/.
About The Author
Advik Unni is a grade 11 student at GEMS New Millennium School, Dubai. He is passionate about STEM and the power of the spoken and written word. He loves debating and has competed and won at international levels. He believes in the transformational power of knowledge and aims to work at the intersection of science and society to help make a difference.