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How Sustainable is Nanotechnology?

NanoSustain project logo
NanoSustain project logo.
Image Credit: NanoSustain.

There are many nanomaterials being developed by different industries and used in a variety of different products. While their benefits to the end customer can be clear, what is not always apparent is their final fate- can they be recycled, or how can they be safely disposed of?

The EU-funded NanoSustain project aims to answer these ‘end-of-life’ questions by investigating four different products containing the following nanomaterials: carbon nanotube epoxy resins (plastics for structural or electrical/anti-static applications), titanium dioxide (for paints), zinc oxide (for glazing products), and nanocellulose (for advanced paper applications). The raw materials and final products are being subjected to typical use and disposal regimes, and the release of different particles is also being assessed.
Last week the NanoSustain partners organised a public dissemination event in Glasgow, UK, where individuals from government, academic health and safety, industry, and other EU initiatives, joined in a lively debate about current nanosafety research activities and what knowledge gaps remain. One of the main issues is that research results are often based on quite different starting materials, making comparison difficult.

While the project is still at an early stage it presented preliminary results: physical and chemical characterisation of the dust particles from sanding painted boards; physiological responses to these particles; incineration of ground glass; and composting of nanocellulose papers. In addition, a useful database of research literature on the chosen materials has been created for use by the partners, and members of the EU’s cluster on nanosafety research. This includes specific information on the characteristics of nanomaterials studied and the experimental procedures to improve comparison between different sets of data.

Those attending also heard about other activities, such as the UK government agency responsible for health and safety (the Health and Safety Executive) review of current best practice in industry and academia, the UK’s Universities Health and Safety Association plans to provide guidance on the safe handling of nanomaterials, and initiatives at an EU level including the NanoSafety Cluster and NANOfutures. Consensus was that there is significant research and public funding going into this area; however, a clear platform for international coordination and general guidance based on current knowledge written in plain language are still needed. For the former the OECD was proposed as a suitable body to lead international efforts, while the creation of simple factsheets summarising knowledge and safe handling of each nanomaterial would be of immense benefit to the wider community.

The NanoSustain consortium will continue with their exciting research over the remaining two years of the project, coordinating closely with both the Nanosafety Cluster and NANOfutures initiatives. A second public dissemination event will take place in Spring 2012 providing the full results and any important conclusions for the future use of these potentially immensely beneficial nanomaterials.

Source: Institute of Nanotechnology /...

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