The need for a balanced approach to nanotechnology development
Senior Health Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund, USA
Nanotechnology has potential applications in nearly every business sector, including consumer products, health care, transportation, energy and agriculture, and the responsible development of these applications requires attention to the potential implications of nanotechnology. The purpose of this plenary session, Life Cycle Perspectives on the Environmental Benefits of Nanotechnology, is to present and discuss key organizing concepts as a framework for identifying and considering potential health and environmental impacts and how they may affect the societal benefits from nanotechnology. This framework, built around a life cycle perspective, and incorporating the principles of green chemistry, forms the basis for a charge to the presenters of each of this week's case studies.
The speakers in this plenary have been asked to define and discuss what a life cycle perspective is and how it relates to nanomaterials design, development, incorporation, and use in products and their ultimate disposal. To understand better the net environmental benefits of nanomaterial applications, life cycle frameworks will be examined as a mechanism for organizing information and identifying potential data gaps and data needs at each stage of material flow. The introduction of green chemistry concepts will describe the benefits of designing safer materials at the outset of technology development. Because this meeting focuses on beneficial uses of nanotechnology, the need for the characterization of relevant exposure scenarios will be emphasized.
Arnim von Gleich
Technology Shaping and Technology Development, University of Bremen, Germany
In the early phases of the innovation process, potential impacts of nanomaterials and nanomaterials based products are difficult to assess. This also holds true for the respective opportunities and threats. Furthermore, impacts, opportunities and threats are usually only discussed in terms of their potentials. But opportunities must actively be realized and threats should actively be minimized, which poses real challenges for the development process. Our group developed a three tiered approach to deal with these challenges . It combines a life cycle approach (ecoprofiles), an approach for preliminary risk assessment (hazard characterization) and an approach for designing materials and products oriented by guiding principles (‘green nanotechnologies’).
We will present this approach along with selected results from eight case studies: Nano coatings in car industry, nano catalysts in styrene production, nano innovations in displays, nano applications in the lighting industry, organic metal nano finish in circuit boards, production process of MWCNT, lithium ion batteries in public transport buses and a high speed injection mould polymer.
James Hutchison, University of Oregon, Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute, Safer Nanomaterials and Nanomanufacturing Initiative
Nanotechnology offers new materials and applications that promise numerous benefits to society and the environment, yet there is growing concern about the potential health and environmental impacts of production and use of nanoscale products. Because nanotechnology is still in the “discovery” phase, the design and production of materials have yet to be optimized. For example, although hundreds of studies of nanomaterial hazards have been reported, there is no consensus about the impacts of these materials or design rules that guide the future development of the materials. Additionally, the synthetic methods used to produce nanomaterials are often inefficient or require the use of hazardous reactants. Green chemistry is an approach to the design of materials, processes and applications that has the potential to reduce hazards at each stage of the life cycle. In this presentation, I will describe how green chemistry applied to nanoscience - greener nanoscience - offers an approach to developing safer, more efficient nanosyntheses and to developing and implementing the design rules for safer nanomaterials. To advance beneficial applications of nanomaterials and minimize harm, we need to develop an understanding of how nanomaterials interact with and in the environment and their biological impacts and develop new methods of production that address the limitations of discovery scale approaches. Examples will be provided that illustrate a research approach to determining the design rules for effective and safe nanomaterials. The results of these types of studies can guide design of new materials for which product safety is a design metric. Examples will also be provided that address challenges faced in greening the nanomanufacturing process, including approaches to greener syntheses, purification and continuous flow production. The results of these studies suggest that green chemistry approaches to nanomaterial production can significantly reduce waste and hazard, while enhancing material quality, increasing process throughput and decreasing costs.
David Santillo & Paul Johnston, Greenpeace Research Laboratories, School of Biosciences
Nanotechnology is a reality: we are already living with numerous applications and, however unwittingly, with the consequent risks, even if they are so far poorly described and understood. As uses continue to expand, the societal and environmental exposure to nanomaterials, both deliberate and unintentional, will inevitably also grow. So how should we decide whether the benefits claimed for nanotechnologies are likely to be realised and to outweigh the associated risks? Just as importantly, who is equipped to decide and who should be mandated to take such decisions on our behalf? And in coming to decisions, how should we deal with the unavoidable and currently substantial limits to knowledge and the power of predictions?
Against this background, proposals to incorporate life-cycle thinking into the evaluation of nanotechnologies are welcome in principle. However, such apparently ‘holistic’ approaches will only begin to support a high level of protection for human health and the environment if they are truly holistic in practice and are set within the right context. One critical aspect is that for LCA to generate meaningful output for decision-makers, it will need to be application-focused, not material or technology-focused, and capable of providing for comparison of different options. Rather than starting from an assumption that environmental benefits are specific to nanotechnologies, any assessment should start from a clear definition of scope and of the purpose or function of the application under consideration, should include an evaluation of the true value or need for that function and should then proceed through a full and proper assessment of all practicable alternatives to provide that function.
Another critical element will be to ensure that data gaps and the ensuing uncertainties and unknowns are given thorough and consistent consideration and are explicitly documented in the final decision, rather than becoming hidden as default values and implicit assumptions. This second point will be of particular relevance to nanomaterials given that understanding and assessment tools for toxicity and ecotoxicity are at such an early stage of development. Preparation of reliable inventories covering manufacturing, use and end-of-life processes will be vital to inform descriptions of inputs of nanomaterials to the environment, but must be complemented by far better understanding of their fates and effects in different environmental compartments, as well as of our abilities to monitor their presence and the feasibility of taking remedial action if necessary.
Any tools for assessment of nanotechnologies cannot be considered in isolation from the systems of governance under which they will operate, nor from the motivations behind the ongoing development of the industry. We have come to realise all too late that effective regulation of conventional chemicals, including transparency of registration and reporting and a presumption against continued use of the most hazardous substances, is not an ideal but a necessity. And yet we continue not merely to allow, but to facilitate, increasingly widespread deployment of nanomaterials in a manner which is far from transparent, cannot be properly assessed and for which governance mechanisms remain ill-defined. Many in the nanotechnology industry favour voluntary codes of conduct over regulation. However, recent reviews indicate that while such codes may go some way to addressing issues of transparency, monitoring and reporting, they are generally powerless when it comes to enforcement and sanctions. Just as experience shows with conventional chemicals, voluntary commitments generally only take full effect when underpinned by effective regulation.
In providing a theoretical framework for comparative evaluation of all phases in material lifetimes, LCA undoubtedly offers something useful. However, if our objective is truly the provision of environmental benefits, then the primary goal of LCA or any other system must be the identification of the most suitable and sustainable solutions to reach that objective, not fostering the growth of any one technology, however innovative it may be. If a nanotechnology proves itself to be more sustainable than other solutions, then it will survive. If not, then neither assessment nor governance mechanisms should aim at its continued promotion in the name of innovation and growth.
Bayer MaterialScience AG, Germany
Carbon Nanotubes (CNT) have achieved enormous attention in the scientific-technical community during the past two decades. Despite of diverse highly promising technical opportunities, offered by CNT, the commercial applications of CNT based materials are currently not in that development stage as expected before.
To overcome the challenge of a broad commercialization along the value chain, a cluster of 18 internally interlinked projects with a total budget of 80 million € using a partial financial support of the government has been initiated in Germany. 80 partners from academia and industry are participating in that four year runtime alliance.
Three of the projects are cross-sectional platforms considering key technical steps of production, functionalization and dispersion of CNT. 14 Projects are dedicated to develop sustainable applications of CNT based materials on the field of Energy/Environment, Mobility and Light Weight Construction. Finally one cross sectional project is taking care of Health, Safety and Environmental issues of CNT.
The presentation will deliver information on structure and goals of the Innovation Alliance CNT in detail.
Lynn L. Bergeson
Managing Director of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C), USA
The emergence of nanotechnologies offers extraordinary opportunities for advancements in cleaner production, energy generation, environmental remediation, and reducing pollution to name a few promising and beneficial applications. Governments, business interests (large and small), non-governmental organizations (NGO), public health professionals, and others (collectively nanotechnology stakeholders), however, are challenged to identify and address effectively the many legal, regulatory, legislative, and policy issues that have also emerged in connection with nanotechnologies and demand resolution to ensure that commercialization of nanotechnologies proceeds responsibly. Mindful of these challenges, nanotechnology stakeholders are pursuing a wide variety of innovative regulatory, voluntary, and policy initiatives designed to facilitate the responsible development of nanotechnologies. Indeed, the unprecedented number of global initiatives focusing on ways to ensure the responsible development of nanotechnologies demonstrates a significant and enduring commitment to achieve this goal.
This presentation will focus on identifying key considerations, including the need to ensure that life cycle perspectives and the means to identify and integrate nanotechnology benefits and implications are appropriately expressed, in developing an integrated and effective policy framework. This presentation will also explore the use of existing regulatory, legislative, and private-party governance tools to address the potential impacts of nanomaterials, and assess the need for additional measures to foster cooperation and efficiencies among international governance systems.
Professor Vicki Colvin
Department of Chemistry, Rice University, USA
Nanotechnology-enabled systems offer much promise for solving difficult environmental problems ranging from water purification to waste remediation. These solutions must not only be cost-effective and sustainable, but they must also be safe for people and the environment. Our emerging understanding of the interface between nanomaterials and biological systems gives us the critical ability to approach the latter issue early in the development of nanotechnology. This talk will discuss in some detail how the chemical and physical properties of engineered nanomaterials impact their biological effects in model systems. Three case studies, ranging from fullerenes to metal oxides, illustrate the vast diversity of nanomaterial features and biological response. The composition of a nanomaterial is the primary factor in describing acute biological effects, and among the different examples nanoparticle charge and surface coating can be of equal importance. Interestingly, the size of the inorganic material itself – such an important feature for applications development – in these three examples is secondary in defining the materials’ acute biological effect. In all cases, the biological and environmental compartments experienced by nanomaterials lead to substantial modification of their hydrodynamic size and charge. The bio-modified material that results is the central element to understand and characterize in order to detect the underlying correlations between the inorganic nanomaterial phase, composition and size with biological outcomes. These correlations form the basis for guidelines that permit researchers creating new nanoparticles to focus their energy on materials that are ‘safe by design’.
Equally important to strategies for eco-responsible design are principles for characterizing the concentration, form and ultimately fate of nanoparticles in the environment. This is an issue for analytical chemistry and it an enormous challenge given the dearth of labeling for these products. This talk will also cover what is currently understood about the actual use of nanoparticles in consumer products; such analysis begins with estimates of quantities and forms of materials. In particular, nanoscale silver and nanoscale titania are two interesting case studies. However, as will be discussed once formulated into a product these nanoparticles can behave in ways quite distinct from their bulk suspensions. Upon disposal, their ultimate environmental fate is unknown but we can speculate as to the most likely environmental compartments they may occupy. Finally, throughout this entire cycle the materials are modified substantially – either through dissolution, aggregation, or modification with natural organic and inorganic substances. While the complexity of this various exposure factors can be daunting, the unique features and tunability of the nanoparticles themselves offer great flexibility for designing detection schemes even in complex environmental matrices.