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Nanomaterials June 2015 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Alastair Cunningham

Nanoparticle Bactericides to Combat Citrus Greening

Why is this topic significant?

Crop disease is having a major impact on the citrus-fruit industry. Nanoparticle bactericides could mitigate or eliminate these problems.

Description

In March 2015, a group of researchers from several institutes (including the University of Florida and Oak Ridge National Laboratory) began a $4.6 million project that aims to combat the spread of citrus greening. Widely known by its Chinese name—huanglongbing (HLB)—this disease renders fruit unfit for consumption and has no known treatment. The United States Department of Agriculture states that HLB is "an invasive disease that is devastating the largest citrus industry in the US and threatening the other major citrus producing regions." The researchers are developing Zinkicide—a zinc oxide nanoparticle bactericide that also incorporates "plant derived compounds" and that is absorbed by the trees into the plant vascular tissue where the HLB-causing bacteria reside. The collaboration will test the product in the next five years to determine its effectiveness and the best means of applying the treatment.

Implications

Currently, quarantines are in place to protect against the spread of disease, and US crop forecasts are at historic lows. The development of a novel nanoparticle-based bactericide has the potential to play a leading role in combating crop loss and would provide a major boon to the citrus-fruit industry—estimated in a publication by the University of Central Florida to be worth $10.7 billion annually.

However, the collaboration must resolve certain matters related to the use of Zinkicide before it can have any positive effects on the industry. In the five-year duration of the project, the researchers must determine, among other issues, exactly where the nanoparticles travel within the plant tissue, whether the treatment is safe at effective doses, and how to minimize the effect of the treatment on nontarget organisms within the plant structure. Crucially, the researchers must also establish the potential economic benefits of using Zinkicide and whether its application would reenable the profitable production of disease-free citrus fruits.

Impacts/Disruptions

If the researchers are able to prove both the effectiveness and the safety of Zinkicide for the control of HLB, Zinkicide could also find use in curbing the spread of other bacteria that affect major industries within the agricultural sector. The currently poor public perception of nanotechnology could also play a large role in determining the potential success of Zinkicide. Alternatives to bactericides include pesticides that target the insects that spread HLB or genetically modified (GM) plants that exhibit HLB resistance—although such GM crops are unlikely to be available until at least 2020 and, as a GM food, could suffer from poor public-perception issues similar to those of nanomaterials. The February 2014 Viewpoints discusses the impact that the public perception of nanotechnology can have on the commercial success of products within the food industry. The May 2015 Viewpoints also notes how public pressure can influence major players that use nanomaterials in food products.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunitites in the following industry areas:

Food, agriculture, nanomaterials

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Graphene Lightbulbs: A Commercial Prospect

Why is this topic significant?

Lighting applications account for a significant proportion of all energy use. Novel graphene-based lightbulbs that will soon reach commercial markets could result in more efficient products.

Description

In March 2015, Graphene Lighting—a spin-out from the National Graphene Institute (NGI) at the University of Manchester—announced plans to release a "graphene lightbulb with lower energy emissions, longer lifetime and lower manufacturing costs." A University of Manchester press release states that the graphene LED bulbs should be "on the shelves in a matter of months, at a competitive cost." The University of Manchester claims that the lightbulb represents the first commercial graphene application to originate in the United Kingdom—where graphene was first isolated in 2004. The product will also be the first commercial application to come out of the NGI—which officially opened only one week before the lightbulb announcement. As a result of "commercial confidentiality," neither Graphene Lighting nor the NGI is releasing many concrete details relating to the precise role that graphene plays within this product or how the product itself compares with competing technologies. However, some reports suggest that Graphene Lighting coats the components of a traditional LED in graphene—transferring heat away from the structure to prolong its lifetime and improve energy efficiency by at least 10%.

Implications

The forthcoming sale of "graphene lightbulbs" (if claims of enhanced efficiency and the imminent release of a commercial product are true) would represent an important node on graphene's commercialization road map—signifying one of the first major products to derive from this field of research. As a result, this venture could prove to be lucrative for Graphene Lighting. Some reports indicate that Graphene Lighting is working with the Canadian financial group Industrial Alliance Securities and has plans to float on the Canadian Stock Market. Such a move would demonstrate the developers' belief that this venture has the potential to be highly successful. Graphene Lighting's ongoing links with the NGI and the University of Manchester will ensure that the university also profits from any potential commercial success that this product may have. The successful development of a commercial product would provide early evidence that the NGI is enabling researchers to develop graphene-based products and bring them to market at speed.

Impacts/Disruptions

The excitement generated by this development—several major media outlets widely publicized the announcement—is perhaps indicative of a lack of availability of other major graphene-based applications. However, large investments in graphene research could result in growing pressure for the beneficiaries of these grants to demonstrate some tangible economic benefits.

An LED that incorporates a graphene coating around the diode is possibly not the "killer app" that heralds the beginning of the graphene revolution. The commercial success of such a product is by no means guaranteed. Any manufacturer of a new lighting application will find breaking into a highly competitive market, in which many major players (such as Philips, Cree, Osram, and LG Lighting) already operate, exceedingly difficult.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium to High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunitites in the following industry areas:

Lighting, consumer electronics, batteries, construction

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: