Nanotech Dirty Manufacturing May Cancel Out Eco-Gains

toxic waste site photo

Photo via Milosz1

Nanotech has some seriously cool potential for products that help us live greener lives. However, we know that how these products are made is just as important to the environment as what they help us to accomplish.

So while nanotech helps us in water purification, solar power generation, power storage and more, it seems that the dirty methods of the creation of nanomaterials could negate any environmental gain the products could produce.Research on the effects of nanotechnology has been demanded since its conception. And, according to new research in the Journal of Industrial Ecology from Yale University, improved efficiency in manufacturing nanoscale materials is required. A reduction in energy use, emissions, solid waste and toxic imput materials is needed if the ends are to justify the means.

"Research in this issue reveals the potential of environmental impacts from nanomanufacturing to offset the benefits of using lighter nanomaterials," says Gus Speth, dean of the Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. "To date, most attention has focused on the possible toxic effects of exposure to nanoparticles and appropriately so. But the 'old-fashioned' considerations of pollution and energy use arising from the production technologies used to make nanomaterials need attention as well."

We’ve talked quite a bit about health issues of nanomaterials on TH before, and even interviewed leaders in the industry about the health and environmental impacts of the products. But now, a study from Ohio State University found that the life-cycle environmental impacts of carbon nanofiber can be as much as 100 times worse than traditional materials, and another study from the University of Illinois at Chicago shows that loose regulations in nanomaterial manufacturing could mean greater environmental burdens than conventional manufacturing. With numbers and definite impact research, we can start real goal and boundary setting.

“There is often a misconception that nanoscale production will necessarily be green and clean," says David Rejeski, director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN), which helped support the production of this special issue. "This research shows that clean nanoscale production is not happening everywhere and it probably will not without a concerted effort by government and industry to green the emerging production infrastructure for nano materials and products."

Encouragement for better manufacturing practices is on its way, including creation of a green nano award that incentivizes nanoscientists to find greener methods for production. So much like what EPEAT does for the computer industry, this award would encourage the industry to look at the whole picture and improve.

We definitely don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water – nanotechnology is a big help for greener living. But getting strict on the production footprint will be an important part of making sure that the solutions nanotechnology provides is actually helping the planet.

Via Press Release
More on Nanotechnology and the Environment:
No, No, Nano: Micro Materials Could Pose Health Risks
Nanotech & Environment: A Match Made in Heaven?
Environmental Defense and DuPont Partner to Address Nanotech Risks
Post-Doc Opportunity in LCA and Nanotechnology at the US EPA!
Scientists Name Top 25 Environmental Threats of the Future

Related Content on