What is the challenge?
With the development of nanoscience and materials science, many commercial applications involving nanotechnology have emerged. Examples are surface coatings, electronic components, hygiene products, textiles, cosmetics, sports equipment, food additives, pharmaceuticals and dental care products. All over the world, nanoproducts are proliferating fast as more and more areas of use are found.
Simultaneously, the development of nanotechnology entails safety issues for humankind and the environment. Overview and study of how nanomaterials are released into the environment are difficult. Nanoparticles can accumulate, disintegrate or be dispersed when they are released; they can be given surface treatments that change their properties; or they can become embedded in other structures. Given the numerous alternatives, there is great uncertainty about causal mechanisms, exposure and its effects.
Mistra’s Environmental Nanosafety programme seeks to assist in the avoidance of undesired environmental effects of new nanotechnology applications, but also to find ways in which these applications can serve to solve existing environmental problems. Correctly applied, nanotechnology can offer new industrial processes with less environmental impact; new technology for remediation of environmental pollution; sensors to detect everything from diseases to atmospheric pollutants; and materials for treating water and air or absorbing carbon dioxide.
How can the programme contribute to a solution?
Mistra Environmental Nanosafety will develop an interdisciplinary research environment to obtain knowledge that enables nanotechnology to be used safely in a sustainable society. The programme focuses on the environmental risks of nanomaterials, the properties of nanomaterials that entail risks, and how we can protect the environment against unacceptable emissions. Through collaboration among researchers in many subject areas, from nanoscience and medicine to social sciences, a common platform will be generated for a wide-ranging dialogue with industry, the public and legislators alike.
The programme is divided into five sections:
- Nanoparticles in the environment and lifecycles of nanomaterials.
- The importance of nanomaterial surfaces.
- Coordinated assessments of the dangers of nanomaterials.
- Society’s need for nanosafety.
- Nanotechnological solutions to environmental problems.
The work will focus on case studies of nanoparticles that are spread from wear on studded tyres to storm water; collection of knowledge about nanomaterials with a major bearing on development and industrial production of nanoproducts; and studies of new nanomaterials, especially graphene. The three case studies were chosen to exemplify various risk-assessment methods applied. Enhanced awareness and knowledge of these methods are important for reducing the risks of nanotechnology.
The programme will be conducted by Chalmers University of Technology in cooperation with the University of Gothenburg, Lund University, Karolinska Institute, KTH and Akzo Nobel.
Who will benefit from the results?
Mistra Environmental Nanosafety will develop new, improved methods of risk assessment both for supervisory public agencies and for industrial enterprises that develop and/or make use of nanomaterials.
Improved knowledge of risks and benefits alike is essential in order for decision-makers at various levels to impose laws and regulations concerning safe production and use of nanomaterials and nanoproducts.
For industry and businesses, this knowledge is crucial for safety in the development and industrial production of nanoproducts. This safety, in turn, is the basis for sustainable and viable operations. The same knowledge is the foundation that enables our supervisory agencies to carry out their important work.