Nanotechnology to raise income and productivity of bee farming

Nanotechnology in beekeeping can help keep microbes and fungi at bay.

A group of students from the global non-profit organisation Enactus of Universiti Tenaga Nasional explained their social entrepreneurial project during their recent interview with me.

As part of their project, they have been working with local communities in Tioman Island on a Trigona beekeeping project since 2012 to help elevate the residents’ income. Six villages later they expanded the project to Kiulu, Sabah in 2015 and ultimately to Santubong, Sarawak.

What is unique about their project is that they have been collaborating with NanoMalaysia Berhad since 2015 to increase honey yield. Funded by the MOSTI Social Innovation programme, by applying an anti-microbial nano-coating onto the bee boxes, they were thrilled to notice the improvement on the quality of beehive – free of microbial and fungus.

Besides recording an increase in honey production by 16 per cent after the application of nanotechnology, 226 new beekeeping jobs were created through the MOSTI Social Innovation programme and their average household incomes are expected to increase from RM 480 to RM 2,011 in five years.

We can learn much from this group of undergraduates – they are doers, have a heart for their community and know how to leverage on technology even for the seemingly most traditional form of jobs like beekeeping!

On nanotechnology, NanoMalaysia Berhad has just concluded Graphene Malaysia 2017 on the 10th of July, an annual international conference on graphene research and commercialisation.

Giving my keynote at Graphene Malaysia 2017.

Before we move on we need to first grasp nanotechnology and graphene.  Nanotechnology is the ability to manipulate matter at a very small level, that is, at less than 100 nanometers. Graphene is a single-atom thick layer of graphite (carbon) and therefore the ability to manage it is known as “nanotechnology”.

Dubbed a “wonder material” for its incredible properties, it is 200 times stronger than steel, the thinnest and most stretchable crystal, and an excellent electrical conductor. It is a promising replacement for conventional semiconductor materials such as silicon.

We launched the National Graphene Action Plan 2020 three years ago to explore graphene’s potential in five priority areas – plastic additives, rubber additives, nanofluids, conductive inks and lastly in lithium-ion battery anodes and ultra-capacitors.

To illustrate the potential of graphene in these five areas, in plastics it helps to enhance its mechanical strength and electrical conductivity. In the RM 900 billion global rubber industry market in which Malaysia is leading in the production of several rubber products, graphene can enhance the performance of gloves, condoms and tyres, thus increasing our competitiveness.

Nanofluids can add value to the downstream products of petrochemical and palm oil industry, whereas graphene-enabled conductive ink can lower production cost of some elements in the electrical and electronic sector. In the automotive industry, graphene is an economical option to improve energy storage performance in hybrid and electric vehicles.

This year the National Graphene Action Plan 2020 saw some fruits when 12 out of 30 graphene-based projects or companies graduating from the programme. Collectively these 12 are projected to generate an additional RM 300 million in revenues with about 1,000 employment opportunities created!

One example is Penchem Technologies, a wholly owned Malaysian manufacturer of advanced materials for electronic and automotive industries. Through the programme with NanoMalaysia, they have developed low cost graphene conductive inks for electronics.

At the conference exhibition.

When businesses are scrambling to find the right balance between performance enhancement of a product and cost, graphene has earned its reputation for being a “wonder material” for helping to achieve this balance.

“Stronger than steel, harder than diamond, lighter than almost anything” – this is why graphene was ranked as fourth in the Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2016 by the World Economic Forum. Nanosensors and the Internet of Nanothings were ranked first, expecting to have the largest impact on medicine, architecture, agriculture and drug manufacture when 30 billion devices are connected by 2020.

With our current milestone in nanotechnology guided by the Action Plan, we are headed in the right direction but there is also a lot more we can achieve in the Digital Economy. I hope that our programmes and events such as the Graphene Malaysia conference have flamed interests of the industry and aspiring scientists to explore nanotechnology.

It might be small, but mighty.



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