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The Bio-Nano Offer and its Impact on Environment, Energy, Agriculture, and Health


A technological Vigilance Study

Jorge L Díaz

Leonardo Estrada

Yesid A Acuña

Edgar E González*


Nanotechnology and biotechnology, are positioning themselves as two of the disruptive technologies of greater impact to assume the different challenges facing the society of the XXI century, as well as essential components to efficiently boost the knowledge economy.

Two decades after the announcement of the main initiatives in nanoscience and nanotechnology, with high investments and training programs and infrastructure implementation, they still remain as strategic areas of greatest impact: environment, energy, health and agriculture.

The context of convergence in which these initiatives are presented, biotechnology and nanotechnology are focused as strategic areas to address the environmental, energy, health and agriculture agenda, which without a doubt is transcendental for the society that transits the 21st century [1]. 

Bio and nano  have been positioned as areas that share common interests, basically derived from a scale that compromises the current disruptive technologies: the scale of the nanometer. At this scale, it is not difficult to find a clear synergy between bio and nano, strengthened by near in size to the fundamental components of matter.

It is however necessary to ask about the achievements, scope and possibilities offered by this convergence, in terms of satisfying the projections that have been generated for the coming years.  Like all disruptive technology, the bio and nano are going through a stage of expectations, which promise revolutionary scientific and technological implications in the medium and long term.  It is of paramount importance to evaluate this scenario on which the technological base for a knowledge society is being built.

In this document, based on technological vigilance, the impact on environmental, energy, agriculture, and health issues is evaluated in terms of the bio-nano offer. From the scientific publications reported in indexed journals, as well as the distribution of these results in the different countries of the world, it has allowed us to have a global image of the role that the bio-nano convergence is playing to address the problems mentioned above.


Information searching on the bio-nano offer in scientific production is outlined in figure 1. 

The database used in this study was Scopus. The keywords  with the use of thesaurus of ebscohost were selected.  The   keywords chosen for the query were: nanotechnology, biotechnology, bionanotechnology and nanobiotechnology in water, soil and air. These keywords were combined using Boolean Operators  with: agriculture, environment, health, and energy including also: sensor, nanoparticles, filter,  biogas, biomass, and photovoltaic. English was the language used for the search. Finally, countries, authors and institutions that lead global scientific production were compared with each other. The search was limited to the window between the years 2008 and 2018.

The search  for original articles in the title, abstract and keywords was sifted.  Since the reviews, retractions, books, book chapters, reports, editorials, conferences and articles in press are considered gray literature, these products were not considered.Figure 1. Methodological scheme that shows the route followed for the technological  vigilance study.

The search equations were elaborated according to the recommendations of thesaurus. The results obtained in each consulted equation and patents related according to the combinations of words in the searches,  are reported (see appendix 1).


Through a technological vigilance study, it becomes possible to evaluate from the registry of the number of publications in indexed journals the impact on research derived from bio-nanotechnology. This information makes it possible to establish useful correlations between the policies of scientific development in the different countries of the world, against the possibilities and capacities offered by these disruptive technologies to address the problems that are strategic for the coming decades.

A bibliometric record of publications in the world on bio and nanotechnology show the following results: In biotechnology, the average publication rate is close to 221 articles per year and in nanotechnology 445 per year. As the figure 2 shows, a slight reduction of publications in biotechnology appears in the last 4 years regarding the incremental trend of the first four years belonging to the observation window. 

Figure 2. Number of publications in bio and nanotechnology between 2006 and 2018.

This behavior could be correlated with the decline with respect to the peak of expectations for which disruptive technologies usually transit. The advances in regulation, normativity, ethical implications and responsible use of these technologies, delimit the applications and incorporations in the market, an aspect that can affect the feedback between industry and research.

Two decades after the announcement of the main initiatives in nanotechnology, with high investments and training programs and infrastructure implementation, they still remain as strategic areas of greatest impact: environment, energy,  agriculture and health

The countries that lead in bio-nanotechnology research for the window that is being evaluated, are the United States and China. The United States reports 32,424 in nano and 1852 in bio respectively. It should be noted that for all the countries that are registered in the graph, publications in nanotechnology surpass those in biotechnology, except Japan and Brazil as shown in the graph in figure 3a-3b.  In a Spotlight recently reported in Nature, it is indicated that in the year 2017 China produced in materials-science more scientific publications that United States [2]. The transcendental role played by the science of materials in scientific development and the high-tech economy in China is recognized.   A case that should be highlighted is the privileged position that India has, which can be explained in terms of the great boom in green nanotechnology that has been developing.  Brazil is the only Latin America country that appears among the first 15 countries.

Figure 3a. Global distribution of scientific production by countries. 

Figure 3b. Global distribution of scientific production by countries. As can be seen, production in both nano (blue color) and bio (orange color) is led by the United States and China. Countries of the European Union, especially Germany and Great Britain offer an important production just like Japan and South Korea. It is also worth noting the important role that India are playing. 

Since 2008, the Chinese Academy of Sciences has remained in the top three ranking places and has played a fundamental role in positioning China in recent years as one of the global powers in scientific production

In Latin America, in biotechnology and nanotechnology lead Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Colombia respectively, a classification that is observed in the majority of measurements made to evaluate the scientific production in general. In these countries, unlike most of the others that appear classified, the scientific production in bio is greater than in nanotechnology (Figure 4).     

Figure 4. Distribution of the number of publications by country in the Latin American region in the last 11 years. Brazil together with Mexico and Argentina, Chile y Colombia lead the ranking. Unlike other regions of the world, scientific production in biotechnology exceeds that of nanotechnology approximately by a factor 2.

With respect to institutions committed to scientific production, the Chinese Academy of Sciences is a leader in publications in the world, both in Bio and nanotechnology, followed by the Ministry of Education of China, and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique CNRS  respectively (Figure 5). These three institutions appear in the first three places of the Scimago Institutions Ranking published in 2019 where all areas of knowledge are included. Scimago Institutions Ranking is based on three sets of indicators related to research performance, innovation outputs and social impact.   Since 2008, the Chinese Academy of Sciences has remained in the top three ranking places and has played a fundamental role in positioning China in recent years as one of the global powers in scientific production [3].

Figure 5. Ranking of scientific production in bio-nano for institutions.

One of the most prolific publications scientists registered in this study is Prof. Shong Lin Wang, who researches in the area of nanogenerators, piezotronics, hybrid cell for energy harvesting. Therea are reports 1510 publications of his authorship and an H-index of 105. In biotechnology Professor Michael Lisanti of Stanford University reports the highest number of publications.

The countries that lead in bio-nanotechnology research for the window that is being evaluated, are the United States and China

From the bio-nano offer, we have considered of great importance to carry out an evaluation of scientific production, specifically for the following strategic areas: Environment,  energy, agriculture, and nanosafety.

The correlations and comparative study between these areas allow us to identify useful elements to project in the short and medium term the policies that are required to improve training and strengthen investment, research and development.

Scientific offer in bio-nanotechnology for environment

The environmental problem appears as one of the main challenges that must be addressed from the opportunities offered by emerging technologies, among which bio and nanotechnology stand out.

Regarding the offer in bio-nanotechnology to face the environmental    problem, publications reported in the last 10 years  show a polynomial growth, with an average rate of 150 publications per year for biotechnology and average rate of 164 publications per year for nanotechnology (Figure 6). It is striking to observe how the growth rates for these two areas of knowledge in the last 10 years are similar.

Figure 6. Scientific production reported  globally in the last 11 years in bio and nano environment.

In nano-environment there was a slight reduction in productivity in 2015-2016 period, which correlates with the loss of productivity in nano at a general level as previously was indicated.  For bio-environment, a reduction in productivity is recorded in the year 2017.

As shown in figure 7 and 8, for bio and nano-environment, the countries that lead production for the 11-year interval that is being considered, are the United States and China. The third place is occupied by India, a country that as noted above stands out in green nanotechnology, with a notorious growth in synthesis of colloidal nanoparticles for environmental remediation with the use of natural precursors.

Figure 7. Global scientific production reported in bio and nano-environment by countries. The United States and China stand out as the two countries with the highest production in the last 11 years.

Figure 8. Map of global scientific production reported in bio and nano-environment by countries.

The paradigmatic products for environmental monitoring derived from bio and nanotechnology are the sensors, while in the case of remediation, filters play a fundamental role. Figure 9 shows the scientific production in terms of  bio-nanosensors and bio-nanofilters. As can be seen, the advances in these two important components are still incipient.

Thus, while the scientific production in nano for the year 2018 was 11002 articles, for nanosensors it was 269, smaller by a factor of 41. In Bio for the same year, the scientific production reached a number of 7368 publications, of which only 82 were on biosensors, smaller by a factor of 90.

In environmental monitoring, production scientific in nanosensors, triples the produced in biosensors.

In biosensors and nanosensors no significant growth for the evaluation window is observed. The average growth rate for nanosensors is approximately equal to 8 publications per year, while for biosensors it is approximately 3 publications per year.

In remediation, specifically in bio and nanofilters, oscillatory behavior occurs in the number of publications.

The average growth rate in nanofilters is approximately 8 publications per year, while in biofilters it is 1 publication per year. In the latter case it could be said that in terms of bio-remediation using filters, scientific production has remained constant. It can be affirmed that the incorporation of natural products for the preparation of nanostructured filtering systems has not experienced sufficient progress in recent years compared to the case of inorganic nanostructured filters.

Figure 9. The graph shows the scientific production in bio-nanotechnology for the environment during the last 11 years.  The behavior in bio and nanosensors for monitoring is specified, as well as in bio and nanofilters for remediation.

Nanomaterials are the raw material required for the configuration of devices and processes for measurement and remediation. An evaluation of the scientific production, specifically in nanoparticles oriented to address the environmental problems,  shows an outstanding growth, with a rate of 64 publications per year.  As shown in Figure 10, there is a production peak in 2015, after which productivity is reduced and stabilized.  Use of nanoparticles to deal with the environmental problem corresponds  at a growth rate of 43% of the total growth rate of production reported for nano-environment. This implies that nanoparticles have an important percentage in the offer of engineering of nanomaterials for the environment. By 2018, the number of articles published in nanoparticles was 44% of the total number of articles of  nano-environment.

The use of nanoparticles for the environment, the United States, China, India and South Korea are the countries with the highest scientific productivity.

Figure 10. Scientific production reported globally in the last 11 years in nanoparticles, biomaterials, and nanosafety to deal with the environmental problem.

With respect to the contribution from biomaterials to the environmental problem, the productivity index with respect to nanoparticles is very low, as shown in figure 10. With respect to the contribution from biomaterials to the environmental problem, the productivity index with respect to nanoparticles is very low as shown in figure 10. The growth rate of 13 articles per year is 5 times lower than for nanoparticles.

The growth rate of  scientific production in biomaterials is 8% with respect to bio-environment.

An aspect of transcendental importance that must be incorporated in the proposals of bio-nanotechnological production are the implications in environment and living beings. Figure 10 shows the scientific production in nanosafety, which although has experienced a slight rate of growth -17 publications per year- is well below the growth rates in nanomaterials, specifically in nanoparticles. This poses a serious problem of sustainability in the face of which it is necessary to increase efforts in research on toxicity and environmental impact.

Scientific offer in bio-nanotechnology for energy

The problem of the energy crisis is an essential part of the agenda that draws the route that the society of the 21st century is going through. Bio and nanotechnology  are the main sources of value to face this challenge [1].

The scientific production of nano-energy surpasses the production in bio-energy. While for nano-energy the growth rate is 54 articles per year, for bio-energy it corresponds to 41 articles per year. For the last year of the evaluation window, nano-energy production doubles bio-energy production.

Figure 11. Scientific production reported in the last 11 years in bio and nanoenergy.

Since photovoltaic and biogas are the sectors emerging with the greatest impact in the energy scenario, it is very important to evaluate specifically the behaviour of this green offer.

The figure shows 12 the total scientific production in bio-nano in the last 11 years. In this work the biomass is identified as a primary form of biofuel, while biogas refers to the production of carbon dioxide and methane generated by the biodegradation of biomass by microorganisms and biogas produced from sanitary landfills.

Within the multiple capacities offered by the bio-nano offer,    the possibility of producing additives to improve efficiency in biogas production or nanomaterials to increase efficiency in photovoltaic solar panels, are highlighted. From elsewhere, can provide processes and materials to transform  biomass into efficient biofuels.

Figure 12. Total scientific production from 2008 to 2018 in nano and biotechnology for photovoltaic, biomass and biogas.

The figure 13 shows the behaviour in scientific production for the biogas sector. Since the beginning of this century, the growth of expectations about the potential impact of agro-industrial biogas in the energy sector was outstanding. However, in recent years these expectations have not been met. Regarding the interest of incorporating biotechnology in improving efficiency in the production of biogas, which is reflected in scientific production, an increase in the production rate between 2008 and 2015 of 91 publications per year is observed. However, as of 2015, scientific production decreases at a rate equal to that of growth. The role played by nanotechnology to meet this potential energy resource, as shown, has been incipient throughout the vigilance window.

In biogas production, Finlandaia stands out for its leadership in the number of plants installed. In the United Kingdom, the largest existing plant has been built and in countries such as Chile and Colombia considerable progress has been made in the implementation of plants for biogas production.

Figure 13. Scientific production from 2008 to 2018 in bio-nano for  biogas.


Figure 13b. Global map of scientific production from 2008 to 2018 in bio-nano for  energy

Agriculture and food security

One of the sectors sensitive to the economy and social welfare is agriculture. The use of new technologies such as bio-nano allow the incorporation of solutions to the problems of efficient land use, agrochemicals, rational use of water, increase of agricultural productivity among others. This study of technological vigilance shows a very low nano scientific productivity  for this sector (figure 14).

Thus, in the case of bio, the growth rate in reported research is 22 publications per year, while for nanotechnology of 7 publications per year.

As shown in Figure 14, the potential impact caused by the use of nanomaterials in food security registers an incipient growth with a very low level of scientific productivity.

Nano food security has a zero growth rate with 23 publications in 11 years!

It is recognized that the health of water resources and soil plays an important role in food security. Monitoring and remediation of contaminated waters and soils that can be addressed by the bio-nano offer, can allow a substantial improvement in food security. On the other hand, packaging, preservation of food, control of biotoxins, are some of the problems that can be assumed by the bio-nano.

Figure 14. Scientific production from 2008 to 2018 in bio-nano for  health.

Figure 15.  Global map of scientific production from 2008 to 2018 in bio-nano for  agriculture.

Scientific offer in bio-nanotechnology for health

In the health sector, bio and nanotechnology are playing a very important role. It stands out a marked development in bio-nanosensors, microarrays and lab-on-a-chip for diagnosis, , nanoparticles for transport and controlled drug release, tissue regeneration, and bio-nanomaterials for prostheses, among other potential applications.

The scientific productivity in this field shows in bio a growth rate for the interval from 2008 to 2018 of 24 publications per year (figure 16). In the case of nano offer, the growth rate is 16 publications per year. Both bio as nanotechnology present similar production levels. In the year 2015 an equal number of publications is recorded as illustrated in figure 16.

Figure 16. Scientific production from 2008 to 2018 in bio-nano for  health.

Figure 17. Global map of scientific production from 2008 to 2018 in bio-nano for  health.


Of this technological vigilance study, specifically in scientific productivity in the bio-nano area oriented to environment, energy and agriculture, the following conclusions are obtained:

The environmental area has the highest investigative activity of those that were considered. The second place is occupied by energy and finally agriculture and health (figure 18). This positions the environmental challenge in the first line of interest in research based on emerging technologies.

Figure 18. The total production reported in bio and nanotechnology from 2008 to 2018 is shown in the first two bars. In the following bars, the productivity in environment, energy, agriculture, and health  is indicated.

The great offer in the area of nanomaterials, specifically in nanoparticles for remediation and monitoring, configuration of nanostructured filters, as well as the capacities that are offered for design and manufacture of sensors, make the environmental area one of the most impacted according to this studio.

In energy, the state of the art in scientific productivity shows a clear domain from the nano in the field of photovoltaics. This is one of the main resources of non-conventional energy production that due to its sustainability character generates a growing interest. From the nanotechnology important alternatives are offered to improve the efficiency of these solar energy transducers. Significant advances are reported with the use of nanoparticles, coatings and nanostructured systems.

Unfortunately in the biogas sector, there has been a decline in scientific productivity in bio in recent years. In nano an incipient research productivity is observed. This is not in tune with the current trends of energy transition towards non-conventional energies, among which biogas is included [4].

In the field of agriculture, the low productivity from bio and nano surprises. The additions of the bio-nano offer to precision agriculture have not been sufficient. However, advances in controlled delivery of agrochemicals and bio-nanosensors stand out.

In terms of nanosafety, the growth rate is not synchronized with the growth rate for nanomaterials production. This implies that there is still insufficient studies and research on toxicity and impact on the environment and living beings. Efforts in research in this direction must be increased to guarantee sustainable and responsible development from these technologies.

One aspect that stands out in comparative terms between bio and nano, is the clear dominance in scientific productivity of nano, except in the case of agriculture and health. This is explained in response to the boom of nanotechnology in the first two decades of this century. Biotechnology is an area with a greater existence in time. Nanotechnology strictly can be considered as a disruptive emerging technology. 

Changes in the trends of scientific productivity that reflects the degree of interest of the different actors in research and development, can occur among other causes to the initiatives of bio-nano convergence [1, 5-6] that in some countries are being adopted.


The authors of this study express their thanks for their valuable collaboration to Zulma Fajardo Navarrete, Chief of Specialized Services Section, Hernán Morales Devia and  María Consuelo Zamora of   Specialized Services Professionals of the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana.


[1] Bionanotechnology: Challenges and Opportunities. In: González, E. Forero, E (Eds) BIO-NANOTECHNOLOGY for Sustainable Environmental Remediation and Energy Production (ACCEFYN, NanoCiTec, 2016) pp. 17-31.

[2] Sarah O´Meara. Nature,  56 (2019) s1-s3.

[3]  https://www.scimagoir.com/

[4] Lise, N. Biogas value chain -Microeconomic incentives and policy regulation., 2018, Ph.D. Thesis.

[5] Chih-Ming ad Jia Ming Chen. IEE Nanotechnol Mag. 15 (2008)18.

[6] Soms, W. Roco, M. (Eds) Managign NANO_GIO_INFO_COGNO Innovations: Converging Technologies in Society.  (Springer, 2005).


Jorge L Díaz PhD (c)

Faculty of Engineering, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia.

Leonardo Estrada PhD (c)

Faculty of Engineering, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia.

Yesid A Acuña PhD (c)

Faculty of Engineering, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia.

Edgar E González PhD

Factulty of Engineering, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia.

Nanoscale Science and Technology Center

*Corresponding Author

E-mail: egonzale@javeriana.edu.co


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