Nanotechnology is a rapidly evolving enabling technology with the potential to revolutionise modern life. However, an increasing body of scientific evidence would suggest that some materials in their nano-form may induce harmful biological or environmental effects through a variety of potential mechanisms, not all of which are fully understood or quantified as yet. A key confounding factor is that nanomaterials (NMs), unlike conventional chemicals, are highly affected by their surroundings, transforming chemically, agglomerating, and/or acquiring an evolving coating of environmental or biological macromolecules, which provides them with an “environmental” identity that is derived from their initial “synthetic” identity. Factoring this context-dependence into assessment of the fate, behaviour and impacts of NMs is essential to move forward in terms of ensuring the safe implementation of nanotechnologies, and to facilitate the widespread application of NMs in environmental applications and for the improvement of ecosystems services, i.e. the processes by which the environment produces resources utilised by humans such as clean air, water, food and materials. The aim of the EcofriendlyNano proposal is to resolve a key bottleneck in the commercial application of NMs, by re-framing the entire approach to safety-by-design as a value chain issue focussing on recovery and recycling of NMs, and understanding where additional value-add can be obtained via boosting ecosystems services such as soil, water and food quality. The overall goal is reduce considerably the currently regulatory uncertainty regarding NMs, which is more costly to industry than increased regulatory testing due to the difficult of evaluating (quantifying the cost of) uncertainty and the cost associated with loss of time in bringing a product to market.
Fields of science
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