Friends of the Earth have just published a new report titled 'Nanotechnology, climate and energy: over-heated promises and hot air?' As usual, the 'good cop, bad cop' team that writes this kind of document was at its best again. On one hand, there is a lot of really good information in this report, well researched and referenced, and it provides a very useful overview of what's going on in nanotechnology research and development in the climate/renewables fields - albeit with a very negative spin on it. On the other hand, there seems to be a monkey sitting on each FoE editor's shoulder that constantly whispers 'Are you kidding me? Boooring! Too positive! Too balanced! Not scary enough! Traitor - think of all the drowning polar bears!' We look at some of the misconceptions in FoE's report.
A new 290-page tome titled 'Strategic impact, no revolution' is the result of a year-long effort to study the strategic value and impact of NMP in its wider European and international context, with special focus on the ERA dimension, against the general policy objectives of FP6 and against the specific objectives of NMP. The title of this report refers to the general finding that the third thematic priority in FP6 strategically affected Europe's competitive position and was an important programme which also influenced Member States' policies and research agendas. However, it cannot be directly linked to a revolution with regard to creating substantial scientific or industrial breakthroughs although these were among the explicitly targeted objectives. The program strengthened Europe's position as one of the world leaders in the respective scientific and industrial fields, but did not enable Europe to outperform other key actors such as the United States or Japan.
How to regulate nanotechnology and the application of nanomaterials has been quite a controversial issue in recent years. While for instance non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth consider the existing regulatory situation to be inadequate and are urging a strictly precautionary approach, industry representatives are instead seeking the development of specific guidance and standards to support implementation of existing regulations, which are generally seen as adequate. Researchers have used Multicriteria Mapping (MCM) to study why some regulatory options - bans, moratoriums, voluntary measures, etc. - are deemed to be acceptable/unacceptable by various stakeholders in the U.S. and the criteria they use to evaluate the different regulatory options. Not surprisingly, the largest difference in ranking of the policy options can be observed between environmental NGOs and the representatives from the industrial companies and the trade association.
'You cannot have an appropriate social dialogue on nanotechnology without an open-minded, consistent and even audacious communication roadmap aiming to bring everyone in.' So begins the foreword to a new Communication Roadmap by the European Commission on communicating nanotechnology in Europe. The EC has now compiled a roadmap for communicating nanotechnology across Europe. It presents the focus, objectives, methodology and actions already in place and to be developed over the next few years. The 188-page document is structured into three main parts: Where are we now? Where do we want to be? and How do we get there? and provides a detailed overview of all relevant activities and initiatives existing or planned across Europe.
One of the greatest current environmental concerns both for the near term as well as for the future is global warming caused by man-made carbon emissions and its well-recognized impact on climate change. The various strategies which can be adopted to combat global warming are classified under the following three categories: 1) Reducing energy consumption by employing more efficient technologies that minimize use of fossil fuels; 2) Adopting technologies that utilize renewable energy and energy storage technologies; 3) Addressing carbon management issues that involve separation, capture, sequestration and conversion to useful products. The present article will specifically address the first two topics.
Eric Drexler attempts to answer the question on how students should prepare for a career in nanotechnology. His advice centers on fundamentals, outlining areas of knowledge are are universally important, and offering suggestions for how to approach both specialized choices and learning in general. It includes observations about the future of nanotechnology, the context for future careers. However, as you might imagine, providing a good answer is challenging. 'Nanotechnology' refers to a notoriously broad range of areas of science and technology, and progress during a student's career will open new areas, and some are yet to be imagined. Choices within this complex and changing field should reflect a student's areas of interest and ability, current background, level of ambition, and willingness to to accept risk - there is a trade-off between pioneering new directions and seeking a secure career path.
Experts and the public generally differ in their perceptions of technology risk. While this might be due to social and demographic factors, it is generally assumed by scientists who conduct risk research that experts' risk assessments are based more strongly on actual or perceived knowledge about a technology than lay people's risk assessments. Nevertheless, whether the risks are real or not, the public perception of an emerging technology will have a major influence on the acceptance of this technology and its commercial success. If the public perception turns negative, potentially beneficial technologies will be severely constrained as is the case for instance with gene technology. It is not surprising that a new study found that, in general, nanoscientists are more optimistic than the public about the potential benefits of nanotechnology. What is surprising though, is that, for some issues related to the environmental and long-term health impacts of nanotechnology, nanoscientists seem to be significantly more concerned than the public. Arguing that risk communication on nanotechnologies requires target-specific approaches, a group of researchers in Germany advocate the development of communication strategies that help people to comprehend nanotechnology, to differentiate between the fields of application and to gain an understanding of the cause and effect chains.
Most products today are defined as 'nanotechnology product' because they contain nanoparticles in some form or other. For instance, many antimicrobial coatings contain silver in nanoscale form; food products and cosmetics contain nanoparticles; drug formulations are made with nanoscale ingredients; and some products are partially made with composite materials containing nanomaterials (e.g. carbon nanotubes or carbon nanofibers) to mechanically strengthen the material. Two researchers from the Norwegian National Institute for Consumer Research (SIFO), Harald Throne-Holst and Pal Strandbakken, argue that consumer rights in the nanotechnology age are not self-evident but rather have to be strengthened, partly redefined and certainly revived in order to empower and protect consumers.