While there’s been plenty of focus on apps and cloud computing in the technology space, advances are also being made in hardware-focused sectors such as nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology uses include everything from safer food processing to more efficient drug-delivery systems to tiny transistors that allow for smaller, more powerful computer chips. Unsurprisingly, nanotechnology applications are set to grow significantly in the coming years. The global nanotechnology market is projected to reach US$288.71 billion by 2030, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 14.5 percent between 2022 and 2030.

Still, for investors just starting to look at nanotechnology stocks, it can be difficult to know where to begin as nanotechnology applications are so varied. As a starting point, here’s an overview of six of the top areas in which nanoscience and nanotechnology are making a big difference today.

1. Nanotechnology uses: Materials and coatings
Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of nanotechnology is advancements in various types of materials and protective coatings. From fabrics and sporting gear to eyeglasses and computer and camera displays, there are plenty of possibilities for nanotechnology applications.

How do nanoscale materials help make products better? As the National Nanotechnology Initiative explains, using nanotechnology, “materials can effectively be made to be stronger, lighter, more durable, more reactive, more sieve-like, or better electrical conductors, among many other traits.” Nanotechnology can also improve the coverage or absorption of cosmetics, and can make fabrics resistant to wrinkling and bacterial growth.

For example, Nano One Materials (TSX:NANO,OTC Pink:NNOMF) is developing technology to process high volumes of advanced nanomaterials at a low cost, initially targeting materials used in lithium-ion batteries. It has a joint development agreement with Johnson Matthey (LSE:JMAT,OTC Pink:JMPLF), a multinational specialty chemicals and sustainable technology company, for lithium battery materials.

Nanophase Technologies (OTCQB:NANX) and Lightwave Logic (NASDAQ:LWLG) are also focused on nanotechnology-based materials.

2. Nanotechnology uses: Medicine
Nanotech is used in the life science sector for therapy techniques, diagnostics and complex drug-delivery systems. For instance, Medlab Clinical’s (ASX:MDC) NanoCelle delivery platform includes CBD and THC therapeutics.

Meanwhile, nanomedicine startup T2 Biosystems (NASDAQ:TTOO) is creating lab-quality diagnostic technology based on superparamagnetic nanoparticles. This nanoparticle technology platform can be used with a number of binding agents, including antibodies, nucleic acids and small molecules.

Other examples of nanotechnology in medicine include antiviral medicines, such as NanoViricides’ (NYSEAMERICAN:NNVC) medicines targeting influenza, HIV/AIDS, herpes and dengue fever, as well as RNAi therapeutic techniques, like Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals’ (NASDAQ:ARWR) dynamic polyconjugate delivery system.

3. Nanotechnology uses: Food science
While one might first think of genetically modified organisms when it comes to food and technology, nanotechnology also has an important role to play in the future of food. Nanotechnology can be used to enhance texture and flavor during food production and food processing, and to better preserve and protect food from microbes via food packaging that uses nanotechnology.

Further, engineered nanomaterials can be used to control water and pesticide use on agricultural crops, delivering targeted nutrients or crop protection throughout the cultivation process.

4. Nanotechnology uses: Electronics
Anyone watching the technology space is no doubt familiar with the rate of advancement predicted by Moore’s Law, which anticipates a doubling of transistor density each year. Electrical circuitry is becoming ever smaller, and it’s nanotechnology that makes such advancements possible.

As an example, in 2015, IBM (NYSE:IBM) announced it was working on a computer chip that would use 7 nanometer transistors; then, just two years later, it created a 5 nanometer chip. In mid-2021, the tech giant announced the development of a 2 nanometer chip projected to achieve 45 percent higher performance, or 75 percent lower energy use, than the advanced 7 nanometer chips. More recently, IBM reported that 1 nanometer chips may be on the horizon.

For its part, Samsung (KRX:005930) developed its own 5 nanometer process that can make chips even smaller and more efficient in terms of power. In mid-2020, Reuters reported that the company’s semiconductor manufacturing division had scored a contract to make new Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) X60 modem chips, which connect devices such as smartphones to 5G wireless data networks.

Partway through 2021, the South Korean multinational electronics company extended a partnership with Synopsys (NASDAQ:SNPS) for the advancement of 3 nanometer gate-all-around process technology targeting high-performance computing, 5G, mobile and artificial intelligence applications.

2022 saw Samsung introduce mass production of 3 nanometer chip technology, which reportedly boasts a 45 percent reduction in power usage alongside a 23 percent improvement in performance over Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) M1 and M2 chips. Trying to keep up with IBM, Samsung has said it plans to produce 1.4 nanometer chips by 2027.

5. Nanotechnology uses: Energy
Nanotechnology applications in the energy sector include uses in both energy storage and the recovery of oil and gas. For example, PyroGenesis Canada (TSX:PYR,OTCQB:PYRNF) uses its plasma-based tools and processes to help oil and gas companies advance greener and more efficient recovery operations. Its plasma processes are also used by the US Department of Defense and by the additive manufacturing and 3D printing industries.

Nanotechnology is used in the renewable energy sector too, for purposes such as enhancing solar cells. Oak Ridge National Laboratory has created microscopic zinc oxide cones, known as nanocones, that can increase energy efficiency in each solar cell.

6. Nanotechnology uses: Water and air treatment
Finally, beyond enhancing solar cells, nanotechnology is important in environmental and health applications, including air and water treatment. For example, US researchers at Northwestern University’s International Institute of Nanotechnology have developed a lightweight membrane coated with nanostructures that binds to phosphate and acts like a sponge to selectively sequester up to 99 percent of phosphate ions from polluted water.

Nanotech can also be used to improve air quality. India-based startup Nanomatrix Materials has developed air conditioner filters that use graphene-silver technology to purify in-room air and sterilize 99 percent of airborne microbes. These filters can convert conventional air conditioners into air purifiers.

Nanotechnology applications for air treatment may also prove helpful in the fight against airborne diseases such as COVID-19. In Israel, researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev are developing a new type of air filter that can self-sterilize while decontaminating the air. This air filtration system is based on laser-induced graphene filters that remove viruses and bacteria in water.