SUMMARY

The areas where nanoscale high surface area materials may have the greatest future impact are difficult to predict, but some signs point to the possibility of substantial advancement in the areas of adsorption/separations, particularly in gas sorption and separations and in novel chemical catalysis using nanoscale catalyst particles.

At least two major challenges must be faced before utilization and generation of high surface area nanoscale materials becomes a commonplace reality. First is critical dimensional control of the nanoscale structure over long times and varying conditions. In nanoscale catalyst materials the critical chemical selectivity is likely to be intimately associated with the local environment around what is termed the "active" site. This suggests that the size, type, and geometry of the atoms making up the active site will play a critical role in defining the conditions under which this active site will be able to carry out its designed function. Ability to fabricate materials with "exactly" the same structure and composition at each active site has been and will continue to be a major challenge to materials and catalytic scientists.

A second challenge involves thermal and chemical stability control of the fabricated nanostructure. It is generally accepted that the smaller the nanostructure (active site) the more likely it is that the structure may move, aggregate, be poisoned, decompose, or change its shape, composition or morphology upon exposure to thermal and/or chemical cycling. Identifying windows of stable operation in which the specific structure or material will be able to retain the desired (and designed) behavior is critical for commercial applications. On the other hand, the driving force is the fact that nanostructured materials typically exhibit unique properties that are expected to open windows of opportunity previously inaccessible with existing materials.

It is important to recognize that nanoscale science and technology is not a "stand alone" field of endeavor, but rather is more of a "generic" area that is expected to have a critical impact and overlap in many areas of science and technology. The breadth of issues covered in this report can be taken as proof of this principle. The fields that fall under the "nanoscale" umbrella are many and diverse, illustrating that nanoscale science and technology is a collection of many different disciplines and areas of expertise. Such science and technology offers both an opportunity and a challenge to the scientific and technological community. Researchers in some areas of science included under the broad umbrella of nanoscale science and technology in this report do not normally consider (or in some cases, want) their scientific efforts to be labeled as "nanoscale." For this chapter, nanoscale science and technology broadly encompasses the science and technology that falls between that involving individual atoms or molecules at the one extreme and that involving "bulk" materials at the other extreme.

In summary, it is important to recognize that the use of nanostructuring or nanostructures to generate, fabricate or assemble high surface area materials is at an embryonic stage. The effect of the nanostructure and our ability to measure it will be increasingly important for future progress and development of materials for the marketplace. That said, it is apparent that so-called "mature" technologies such as catalysis, coatings, separations, etc., are already being impacted. Thus, one may eagerly anticipate exciting new advances in many diverse technological areas growing from our increasing understanding of nanostructuring and nanostructured materials.


Published: September 1999; WTEC Hyper-Librarian