NANOTECHNOLOGY: INSTITUTE OF NANOTECHNOLOGY
Running the risks
Nanotechnology is about the application of the results of scientific research at the scale of about one to a hundred nanometres. It is about the increasing ability to control the attributes of materials at the molecular and even atomic scale, and represents a new approach to product innovation. It is leading to the creation of entirely new products and processes that are genuinely ?disruptive? ? rendering many existing products and processes obsolete.
In terms of applications, few industries will escape the influence of nanotechnology. Some of the areas where nanotechnology will have a major impact include faster computers, advanced pharmaceuticals, controlled drug delivery, biocompatible materials, nerve and tissue repair techniques, surface coatings, better skin care and protection, catalysts, sensors, telecommunications, magnetic materials and devices, batteries and electronic displays, data storage, the security industry, sensors for real-time recording of neurological activity and other biological functions, targeted drug delivery and personalised treatments, nanoscale devices for research, diagnostics and therapy, nanotechnologically coated implants and nanoelectronic implants.
No-one can exactly agree on how large the future market for nanotechnology will be and the most quoted and possibly disputed figure related to the nanotechnology market was published by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2001 estimating the world market for nano-based products will reach $1tn in 2015. This figure largely depends on an accepted definition of nanotechnology and its impact on the value chain1. However, everyone agrees that the nanotechnology market will be massive.
Nanotechnology is not a market per se, but an enabling technology for the development of new products for new markets or improved products for existing markets. There are few industries that will not be affected by the influence of nanotechnology, as it offers new product solutions, the promise of ?more for less? ? smaller, cheaper, lighter and faster devices with greater functionality, using fewer raw materials and consuming less energy. Its influence is expected to extend across society, in terms of innovations in healthcare, transport, energy and environment.
Materials at the nanoscale present novel properties that are exciting, but sometimes poorly understood. Because of this, there are fears from some quarters, including laypeople and legislators, that research in nanotechnology could lead to new ethical issues, the protection of fundamental human rights and dignity, protection of the environment and safeguarding of personal information. Some commentators have even called for moratoriums on research until safety issues have been addressed ? although how one can ascertain risk and safety on novel technologies without research is debatable.
The European Nanotechnology Trade Alliance?s (ENTA) viewpoint is a logical one. Any new legislation is acceptable providing it is evidence based, and environmental, health, or safety risks have been clearly demonstrated. Many products and even natural processes have from almost time immemorial created nanoparticles that have presented no known hazard to living creatures. The EU wishes to ensure, as we all do, that all reasonable safeguards are in place to protect the public. Recognising these dilemmas, the European Commission has now adopted a ?Code of Conduct for Responsible Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies Research?.
The code encompasses general principles covering issues such as sustainability, precaution, inclusiveness and accountability and invites member states to take concrete action, involving universities, research institutes and companies, for the safe development and use of nanotechnologies.
To aid in the safe and responsible development of nanotechnology, a number of frameworks are being developed at national and international levels to mitigate and manage risks posed by nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes. The International Risk Governance Council (IRGC) Framework for Nanotechnology is one prominent example. This defines methodologies for various aspects of pre-assessment, risk appraisals, risk evaluation and risk management for four generations of nanotechnology-enabled products. The Innovation Society (St. Gallen, Switzerland) and TÜV SÜD (Munich, Germany) has jointly developed CENARIOS® ? the first certifiable nanospecific risk management and monitoring system that is being used by companies in Europe. The system is expected to be implemented by a wide range of organisations.
Among other notable initiatives are the Nano Risk framework developed by Environmental Defense in collaboration with DuPont, and NanoSURE TM methodology developed by Smith and Nephew. Governmental organisations are aware of the potential risks posed by nanostructured materials and are applying the precautionary principle to ensure harm to human health and environment is minimised.
As well as ongoing work by the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation on test methods for manufactured nanoparticles, the European Commission?s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) has suggested that a safety assessment for nanomaterials be carried out on a case-bycase basis. It has also recommended evaluating relevance of existing risk assessment methodologies for nanomaterials.
Specific funding is being increasingly directed to research on environment, health and safety (EHS) of nanomaterials. The collective funding in Europe for this purpose has been stated as ?79 million by the Commission. This funding collectively represents research where primary goals are an assessment of EHS of nanomaterials. The National Nanotechnology Initiative in United States has allocated $76m in 2009 for EHS research. This funding allocation has more than doubled in comparison to 2006.
In conclusion, humankind is good at managing risk, if we know and understand what that risk is, in order to maximise the benefits of a particular technology. Without this knowledge, we would have no fire, electricity, gas, air travel, cars, mobile phones, medicines or even kitchen knives. Carbon nanotubes, for example, have many potential applications, including offering new ways of treating and monitoring disease and, once we know how to handle and manage them and other nanomaterials safely, many advances of potentially great benefit to society will be possible.
In order to minimise any possible risk from nanotubes, it is essential that all organisations producing or using free nanotubes, and businesses incorporating them into their products, manage the risk associated with their handling of carbon nanotubes in a professional way. The Institute of Nanotechnology, in conjunction with the European Nanotechnology Trade Alliance, is offering training courses in risk management for organisations producing nanotubes or other engineered nanoparticles, to ensure that any risk to workers, the public or the environment is at an acceptable minimum.
1. ?The economic development of nanotechnology ? An indicators based analysis?. Author: Dr. Angela Hullmann: European Commission, DG Research, Unit ?Nano S&T ? Convergent Science and Technologies? Version: 28 November 2006
The European Nanotechnology Trade Alliance (ENTA) was created in 2005 to represent the interests of nanotechnology businesses across Europe. ENTA acts to bridge gaps between governments, science and industry policy makers and business, and openly interface with the public and watchdog organisations to ensure transparency.
ENTA also offers an integrated programme aimed at promoting the benefits of nanotechnology and mitigating regulatory and reputational risk for the whole industry and supporting all actions that ensure new nanotechnologies are developed in a safe and responsible manner. ENTA has over 50 members represented in 13 European member states and continues to grow. A variety of companies are members, including large multinationals such as ABB Corporate Research, ICI, Shell, Solvay, and WBB Minerals, and SMEs such as Capsulation Nanosciences, Exilica, Fluidinova, Metal Nano Powders, NanoCover, Nanogap, Nanopeutics and Nanosight.
ENTA runs regular nanotechnology policy meetings for industrial companies to discuss issues related to standards, public perception, communication, risks, environmental impact and responsible nanotechnology development. ENTA also co-ordinates the NanoMicroClub which is a network across Europe which meets regularly to stimulate nanotechnology commercialisation.
For more information, contact:
Del Stark, CEO
European Nanotechnology Trade Alliance
Tel: +44 (0)141 416 2777