Georgia Institute of Technology researchers Philip Shapira and Jan Youtie helped answer that question through research presented March 27th at the International Symposium on Assessing the Economic Impact of Nanotechnology held in Washington, D.C. The researchers highlighted the importance of full lifecycle assessments to understand the impacts of nanotechnologies on green economic development in such areas as energy, the environment and safe drinking water.
“Nanotechnology promises to foster green and sustainable growth in many product and process areas,” said Shapira, a professor with Georgia Tech’s School of Public Policy and the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research at the Manchester Business School in the United Kingdom. “Although nanotechnology commercialization is still in its early phases, we need now to get a better sense of what markets will grow and how new nanotechnology products will impact sustainability. This includes balancing gains in efficiency and performance against the net energy, environmental, carbon and other costs associated with the production, use and end-of-life disposal or recycling of nanotechnology products.”
But because nanotechnology underlies many different industries, assessing and forecasting its impact won’t be easy. “Compared to information technology and biotechnology, for example, nanotechnology has more of the characteristics of a general technology such as the development of electric power,” said Youtie, director of policy research services at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. “That makes it difficult to analyze the value of products and processes that are enabled by the technology. We hope that our paper will provide background information and help frame the discussion about making those assessments.”
The symposium is sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and by the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative. Support for Georgia Tech research into the societal impacts of nanotechnology has come from the National Science Foundation through the Center for Nanotechnology in Society based at Arizona State University.
For their paper, co-authors Shapira and Youtie examined a subset of green nanotechnologies that aim to enable sustainable energy, improve environmental quality, and provide healthy drinking water for areas of the world that now lack it. They argue that the lifecycle of nanotechnology products must be included in the assessment.
“In examining the economic impact of these green nanotechnologies, we have to consider the lifecycle, which includes such issues as environmental health and safety, as well as the amount of energy required to produce materials such as carbon nanotubes,” said Shapira.
Environmental concerns have been raised about what happens to nanomaterials when they get into water supplies, he noted. In addition, some nanostructures use toxic elements such as cadmium. Energy required for producing nano-enabled products is also an important consideration, though it may be balanced against the energy saved – and pollution reduced – through the use of such products, Shapira said.
Research into these societal issues, which is being conducted in parallel with the research and development of nanotechnology – may allow the resulting nano-enabled products to avoid the kinds of the controversies that have hindered earlier technologies.
“Scientists, policy-makers and other observers have found that some of the promise of prior rounds of technology was limited by not anticipating and considering societal concerns prior to the introduction of new products,” Youtie said. “For nanotechnology, it is vital that these issues are being considered even during the research and development stage, before products hit the market in significant quantities.”
The nanotechnology industry began with large companies that had the resources to invest in research and development. But that is now changing, Youtie said.
“A lot of small companies are involved in novel nanomaterials development,” she said. “Large companies often focus on integrating those nanomaterials into existing products or processes.”
Among the goals of the OECD symposium are development of methodologies and approaches for estimating the impacts of green nanotechnology on jobs and new product sales. Existing forecasts have come largely from proprietary models used by private-sector firms.
“While these private forecasts have high visibility, their information and methods are often proprietary,” Shapira noted. “We also need to develop open and peer-reviewed models in which approaches are transparent and everyone can see the methods and assumptions used.”
In their paper, Youtie and Shapira cite several examples of green nanotechnology, discuss the potential impacts of the technology, and review forecasts that have been made. Examples of green nanotechnology they cite include:• Nano-enabled solar cells that use lower-cost organic materials, as opposed to current photovoltaic technologies that require rare materials such as platinum;
• Technologies used to provide safe drinking water through improved water treatment, desalination and reuse.
John Toon | Newswise Science News
Rising CO2 has unforeseen strong impact on Arctic plant productivity
21.02.2019 | Max-Planck-Institut für Meteorologie
Scientists Create New Map of Brain’s Immune System
18.02.2019 | Universitätsklinikum Freiburg
Up to now, OLEDs have been used exclusively as a novel lighting technology for use in luminaires and lamps. However, flexible organic technology can offer much more: as an active lighting surface, it can be combined with a wide variety of materials, not just to modify but to revolutionize the functionality and design of countless existing products. To exemplify this, the Fraunhofer FEP together with the company EMDE development of light GmbH will be presenting hybrid flexible OLEDs integrated into textile designs within the EU-funded project PI-SCALE for the first time at LOPEC (March 19-21, 2019 in Munich, Germany) as examples of some of the many possible applications.
The Fraunhofer FEP, a provider of research and development services in the field of organic electronics, has long been involved in the development of...
For the first time, an international team of scientists based in Regensburg, Germany, has recorded the orbitals of single molecules in different charge states in a novel type of microscopy. The research findings are published under the title “Mapping orbital changes upon electron transfer with tunneling microscopy on insulators” in the prestigious journal “Nature”.
The building blocks of matter surrounding us are atoms and molecules. The properties of that matter, however, are often not set by these building blocks...
Scientists at the University of Konstanz identify fierce competition between the human immune system and bacterial pathogens
Cell biologists from the University of Konstanz shed light on a recent evolutionary process in the human immune system and publish their findings in the...
Laser physicists have taken snapshots of carbon molecules C₆₀ showing how they transform in intense infrared light
When carbon molecules C₆₀ are exposed to an intense infrared light, they change their ball-like structure to a more elongated version. This has now been...
The so-called Abelian sandpile model has been studied by scientists for more than 30 years to better understand a physical phenomenon called self-organized...
11.02.2019 | Event News
30.01.2019 | Event News
16.01.2019 | Event News
21.02.2019 | Earth Sciences
21.02.2019 | Trade Fair News
21.02.2019 | Life Sciences