<!-- --><!-- --><style type="text/css">@import url(https://www.blogger.com/static/v1/v-css/navbar/3334278262-classic.css); div.b-mobile {display:none;} </style> </head><body><script type="text/javascript"> function setAttributeOnload(object, attribute, val) { if(window.addEventListener) { window.addEventListener('load', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }, false); } else { window.attachEvent('onload', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }); } } </script> <div id="navbar-iframe-container"></div> <script type="text/javascript" src="https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js"></script> <script type="text/javascript"> gapi.load("gapi.iframes:gapi.iframes.style.bubble", function() { if (gapi.iframes && gapi.iframes.getContext) { gapi.iframes.getContext().openChild({ url: 'https://www.blogger.com/navbar.g?targetBlogID\07511139315\46blogName\75NanoNovus\46publishMode\75PUBLISH_MODE_BLOGSPOT\46navbarType\75BLUE\46layoutType\75CLASSIC\46searchRoot\75http://nanonovusblog.blogspot.com/search\46blogLocale\75en_US\46v\0752\46homepageUrl\75http://nanonovusblog.blogspot.com/\46vt\75-6835450727142964005', where: document.getElementById("navbar-iframe-container"), id: "navbar-iframe" }); } }); </script>

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Nanotechnology and the Kitchen & Bath of Tomorrow

The following article was written by me for the National Kitchen and Bath Association in advance of its 2006 annual conference in 2006.

An article on how the emerging field of nanotechnology will affect the future of kitchen and bath design might lead a person to conjure up futuristic imagines of Jetson-like rooms where refrigerators communicate wirelessly with sensor-embedded milk cartons and then transmit that information to an all-knowing computer which determines if it is necessary to order another carton from the store that offers the lowest price.

Such a future is, in fact, technologically feasible. It is not, however, likely to occur anytime soon. The future of kitchens and baths is, perhaps unfortunately, going to be a little less sexy. This is not to say, however, that it will be any less exciting for those who make their living designing, supplying or building these rooms.

To begin, it is useful to think of nanotechnology not as a specific technology but rather as a broad-based enabling technology that will affect many things. In this way, nanotechnology is comparable to electricity or plastics. And just as electricity and plastics allowed the modern refrigerator to replace the bulky, old wooden ice-boxes of yesteryear, so too will nanotechnology lead to similar radical advances in tomorrow’s homes.

The first great wave of change—and one which is already well underway—is occurring in how nanotechnology is affecting the field of material sciences. Materials are a decidedly boring topic but because almost every item in a kitchen or bathroom is made out of a material that has been uniquely selected for an inherent characteristic—be it aesthetic or functionality—it is important to understand that nanotechnology will allow future designers to dispense with the age-old question of form versus function. In short, designers will figure out what they want a material to do first and will then build it to those desired specifications.
For instance, how would various items be redesigned if one could find an inexpensive material that had the durability, look and feel of a ceramic but wouldn’t chip or break? What if you wanted a sink or oven that was self-cleaning and heat resistant? Or what if you wanted a refrigerator with anti-bacterial properties or a shower that was resistant to mildew? Well, all of these materials are already on the market thanks, in large part, to nanotechnology.

These advances are, however, just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Mid-term, a host of other nanomaterials will find their way to the commercial marketplace and lead to even more profound changes. Among these new nanomaterials are aerogels—super lightweight materials, also known as “frozen smoke”—that are able to reduce insulation thickness by 50-600 percent and will be used in appliances, windows and walls and will lead to significant new design opportunities.

Another nanotechnology-enabled market on the near-term horizon is solid-state refrigeration. One company working on this technology is NanoCoolers of Austin, Texas. Using a tiny electromagnetic pump that circulates a nontoxic liquid metal, it is developing a method to refrigerate devices without employing any mechanical moving parts. This advance is expected to lead to drastically smaller refrigerators and will free up a considerable amount of space in the kitchen of tomorrow.

Nanotechnology is also making serious inroads is in the area of water and pollution filtration. By taking advantage of the unique characteristics of nanoparticles, new materials are being developed to act as hyper-efficient catalysts to disinfect water. New nano-filters are also being developed to effectively filter out nearly 100 percent of the contaminants that affect even today’s most polluted water supplies. Both advances will affect how much water is used—and re-used—to power tomorrow’s bath and kitchen operations.

A third area where nanotechnology is slated to influence kitchens and baths is in the field of lighting. Specifically, new advances in nanotechnology portend the day of efficient, inexpensive light-emitting diodes. Such LEDs are already making their way to the market but what will make the next generation of nano-enabled LEDs so unique will be their ability to be incorporated into flexible plastics. Imagine how rooms and appliances can be redesigned if the end-user can place the precise amount of lighting exactly where ever he wants it.

Lastly, in the neat-term, nanotechnology is going to affect how future homes and appliances are powered. No less than three companies are now working on applying nanotechnology to the development of flexible solar cells. These solar cells are expected to be so thin they can be printed (and installed) like wallpaper, and be so efficient they operate off the ambient lighting in a room. The advent of these and other alternative energy technologies suggests that the era of distributed energy—energy that does not rely on today’s existing electrical grid—is just around the corner.

Beyond these advances are the development of “metal rubber,” which, as the name implies, combines the strength of metal with the flexibility of rubber. Other companies are working on materials that can change color on demand, and still others, including Boeing and Ford, are experimenting with shape-shifting materials.
And while even these advances may not give tomorrow’s kitchens and baths a Jetson-like feel quite yet, they will change how the kitchens and bathrooms of the future are designed, used and thought of. Moreover, they will pave the way for some the more futuristic technologies like pervasive computing, embedded sensors, “spray-on” solar cells and even self-healing materials.

Jack Uldrich is the author of The Next Big Thing is Really Small: How Nanotechnology Will Change the Future of Your Business. He will address these and many other advances in greater detail at the NKBA Annual conference in Chicago in March 2006.