Can nanotechnologies replace hazardous substances?
Currently, nanotechnologies are not contributing exceptionally to an increase in the substitution of hazardous substances for safer ones. However, experts believe that this could well change in the future.
These are two of the messages coming out of a study by STOA, the European Parliament's Scientific Technology Options Assessment committee, on the role of nanotechnology in chemical substitution.
The goal of the project was to provide an overview of the current use of nanotechnologies to replace hazardous chemicals, with a view to identifying new applications of nanotechnologies which could be used to reduce the risks related to hazardous substances.
The researchers carried out an extensive literature review and also consulted extensively with experts, both individually and via a workshop held at the European Parliament.
One of the first findings of STOA was that their study was unique, and there is in fact very little research into the potential of nanotechnologies to replace hazardous chemicals.
With this in mind, the authors recommend that in the future workshops be held to bridge the gap between science and industry. In addition to this, detailed case studies based on full life cycle analyses are necessary.
Two areas where nanotechnology is already making inroads as a substitute for hazardous chemicals are coatings and catalysts. Coatings can create anti-adhesive surfaces which resist things sticking to them, such as dirt, or have biocidal properties to prevent living organisms from sticking to them.
Nanoparticles are also widely used in catalysts, although the authors point out that research in this field was already on the nanoscale, and so it is not clear to what extent future developments could be attributed to nanotechnologies.
However, in general, nanotechnologies are having a very gradual effect on environmental and safety performance in a range of fields and in a range of ways, the authors point out.
'At present, nanotechnologies and nanotechnological concepts deliver a variety of mostly incremental improvements of existing bulk materials, coatings or products,' the report states. 'These improvements point in several directions and often are aimed at improving several properties at the same time. With respect to substitution this means that nanotechnological approaches often cannot lead to direct substitution of a hazardous substance, but may lead in general to a more environmentally friendly product or process.'
To read the study, please visit:
Data Source Provider: European Parliament's Scientific Technology Options Assessment committee (STOA)
Document Reference: Based on the STOA study, 'The role of nanotechnology in chemical substitution'
Subject Index: Environmental Protection; Materials Technology; Scientific Research