Nanotechnology Innovation in Climate Change Mitigation and Malaria Eradication

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In a recent COP21 gathering in Paris, in December 2015, more than 190 countries met to address climate change and to implement a process to reduce greenhouse gases.

Climate change refers to the shift of weather patterns due to an increase of greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide (CO2)) emissions stemming from burning fossil fuels. The Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa association (BRICS) countries being among largest greenhouse gas emitters, account for 43.6% (15 540 000 kt) of the world total. Developing countries will continue to be affected the most, due to poverty and a lack of resources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Conditions resulting from climate changes such as warm and wet environments are essential for mosquitoes to breed and increase their lifespan. As a consequence, the climate conditions are likely to significantly increase malaria cases and promote malaria to spread into new areas.

Malaria remains a predominant cause of death in many areas of sub-Saharan Africa. According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) malaria report, malaria infected around 214 million people in 2015, with an estimated 438 000 deaths associated with malaria.  Furthermore, an estimated 80% of all malaria associated deaths occurred in sub Saharan Africa.

Nanotechnology is a multidisciplinary field of science and engineering with the potential to manipulate functional materials, devices, and systems at an atomic or molecular level. This technology promises breakthroughs in many areas in 21st century, such as in medicine, energy, climate change, and so forth.

Nanotechnology in climate change – the application of nanotechnology in climate change may have a major role to play towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions when it is incorporated into larger systems, such as hydrogen fuel technology, solar power technology or next generation lithium-ion batteries technology. In hydrogen fuel, nanotechnology may be used to develop effective hydrogen fuel cell vehicles with zero emission. The manner in which this will work is that when the hydrogen fuel burns in air it reacts with oxygen to form water. In solar power technology, nanotechnology may improve efficiency and lower costs of photovoltaic (PV) solar cells. In addition, nanotechnology could extend the life and storage capacity of the solar cells and batteries of electric vehicles. Furthermore, nanotechnology can be used in artificial plants to harvest energy from the sun through photosynthesis. Carbon nanotube membranes, as CO2 capture technology, could capture up to a billion tons of CO2 from electricity generation and industrial processes prior to entering the atmosphere.

In the above mentioned Paris COP21 climate talks, Russia proposed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by the year 2030. This effort will involve five materials: steel, cement, aluminium, plastic and paper. The method to achieve this will be by employing nanotechnologies such as carbon nanomaterials to make these materials lighter, stronger, stiffer and more efficient.

Nanotechnology in Malaria – the application of nanotechnology in malaria has been receiving a high attention for the last decade due to its potential to combat many infectious diseases such as TB & HIV. In Malaria prevention; nanotechnology could be incorporated into anti-Malaria garments or mosquito nets laced with nanoparticles of pyrethroid (an insecticide), silver nanoparticles, anti-bacterial nanocapsules, Smart InovationTM nanotechnology repel mosquito and so forth. In Malaria diagnosis; nanotechnology devices can be developed to prevent malaria associated deaths through (i) rapid diagnosis, (ii) early detection prior disease spread and (iii) combating drug resistance. Examples of these devices include Nanomal DNA analyser, nano-chip detector, fluorescent quantum dots and so forth. In drug delivery systems, nanotechnology can be developed to deliver anti-malaria drugs into target cells, improve bioavailability and minimise the side effects associated with conventional anti-malaria drugs. Examples of these include nanoliposomes, nanoemulsion nanocapsules, nanosphere and so forth.

Picture 1: Countries by carbon dioxide emissions in thousands of tonnes per annum, via the burning of fossil fuels (blue the highest and green the lowest).

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If South Africa plans to combat climate change, while eradicate malaria inside its borders, this country needs to start facilitating its nanotechnology industrialisation and policy makers need to start engaging the benefits of nanotechnology.

by Dr. Steven Mufamadi