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Insights How nanotechnology can have a big impact on the built environment

Nanotechnology is science, technology and engineering on a nanoscale. It gives us the ability to see and control individual atoms and molecules. To put things in perspective, if a marble were a nanometer, then one meter would be the size of the Earth. 

The full impact of nanotechnology on the built environment is unimaginable. A 2021 report on Digital Construction found that 80% of respondents think the adoption of digital technologies is delivering a better-built environment, with three-quarters (75%) saying it improves sustainability. 

Nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionize the way we design and build, making the built environment more efficient, sustainable, and resilient. We create sustainable solutions at AtkinsRéalis that connect people, data, and technology to design, deliver and operate the most complex projects. 

We're excited to see what boundaries nanotechnology could help us push. Are you?

Genetic engineering concept. Medical science. Scientific Laboratory.

Greener projects 

Nanotechnology has the power to improve process efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, and produce less wasteful methods of construction. 

Nanoscale materials 

It can be used to improve the performance of construction materials as we can enhance properties such as higher strength, lighter weight, increased control of the light spectrum, and greater chemical reactivity. Carbon nanotubes are a great example of a useful application in the built environment. 

Carbon nanotubes are a hundred times stronger than steel and can be used as a switchable conduit, a light source, a generator of energy and even a conveyor of matter. Another application is adding carbon nanotubes to concrete making it stronger, yet lighter. 

Limiting waste 

Nanotechnology can be used to create materials that are more durable and consume less energy, which can reduce the number of materials that are used. This enhances and protects biodiversity in the built environment. 

There are also applications to improve recycling processes. By adding nanoparticles into plastic, it makes it easier to separate, process, and recycle. What’s more, nanotechnology can be used to create new materials that are fully recyclable such as nanocellulose-based composites.

Reducing carbon emissions 

Nanotechnology can reduce carbon emissions in several ways:

  • Creating cleaner energy sources - nanomaterials such as perovskite can be used in solar cells, fuel cells, and batteries to produce more clean energy.
  • Capturing more carbon - a lot of energy is required to capture carbon and nanotechnology can be used to capture and store it more efficiently by using nanoparticles in membranes to separate gas. 
  • Reducing emissions on a human level - introducing nanocatalysts for engines could have a worldwide impact on the environment. 

Address water pollution

Nanotechnology can improve water treatments through nanofiltration. This is where membranes with nanopores are created that remove contaminants from water. This process is considerably more effective than traditional filtering methods and can capture viruses, bacteria, heavy metals, and organic pollutants. 


This technology can also be used to create more powerful computers through the development of smaller and faster components that process information more efficiently, use less energy and extend battery life. 

Nanoscale transistors made from graphene or carbon nanotubes operate at lower voltages which means they consume less power and generate less heat. 

We embrace sustainability at AtkinsRéalis and are always on the lookout for ways to incorporate sustainable solutions for our teams and clients to make the world a better place. You’ll have access to the latest technology so you can engineer a better future for our planet and its people. 

Be part of the change and create a better-built environment 

Nanotechnology is pushing the boundaries of the built environment. At AtkinsRéalis , we are embracing technology to change the world in a positive way. 

If you enjoy finding new and better ways of doing things, there’s a place for you at AtkinsRéalis to grow and thrive. Find your next opportunity with us, whether it’s in cities and development, transportation, or project, programme and cost management.