A nanopowder is an extremely fine powder produced on the nano scale for applications in industry and research. Production methods can include grinding and heat treatment to produce extremely tiny particles of materials like metals. Companies that produce nanopowders may offer a general line of generic products as well as specialty powders for particular applications. Many have catalogs available for potential customers and may also sell through distributors who put out nanopowders and products that include them.
Operating on the nanoscale means that a nanopowder is measured in nanometers, a very small unit of measurement. This requires a high degree of manufacturing precision to control conditions and yield powders of the correct size and composition. While nanotechnology is often considered a modern invention, archaeologists have shown that earlier human cultures were able to produce and work with these products. Certain ceramic glazes, for example, show evidence of nanopowders used to achieve very specific glazing effects that would not have otherwise been possible.
In research applications, a nanopowder can be used in a variety of projects. Researchers may want to learn more about the properties of a given material at the nano scale, and could also use powders in the production of experimental products and components. Some research facilities have the capacity to make nanopowders for research, while others need to order from a scientific supplier that specializes in this activity.
In industry, there are numerous uses for these ultrafine powders. Targeted drug delivery can rely on a nanopowder carrier, for example, and these compounds are used in solid fuels, conducting pastes, and specialized paints and glazes. Finished coatings with metallic effects are often made with the assistance of nanopowders. They are also used as catalysts in industrial processes. Research and development teams may explore new applications for these products, putting research to immediate practical use.
Safety precautions for working with nanopowders can vary, depending on the application and the material. Workers may need respirators to avoid accidental inhalation, or may need to exercise caution because of toxins present in the powders or compounds made with them. Work environments typically need to be very clean to limit contamination and may need to include features like separate ventilation and filtration systems for additional safety. Experimental products made with nanopowder components are subject to safety testing, particularly if they will be used in food or pharmaceutical products where there might be a threat to human health.