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Posted: Oct 06, 2014
Opportunities and challenges of nanotechnology in the green economy
(Nanowerk News) In a world of finite resources and ecosystem capacity, the prevailing model of economic growth, founded on ever-increasing consumption of resources and emission pollutants, cannot be sustained any longer. In this context, the "green economy"concept has offered the opportunity to change the way that society manages the interaction of the environmental and economic domains (open access review article: "Opportunities and challenges of nanotechnology in the green economy").
To enable society to build and sustain a green economy, the associated concept of "green nanotechnology" aims to exploit nano-innovations in materials science and engineering to generate products and processes that are energy efficient as well as economically and environmentally sustainable. These applications are expected to impact a large range of economic sectors, such as energy production and storage, clean up-technologies, as well as construction and related infrastructure industries.
These solutions may offer the opportunities to reduce pressure on raw materials trading on renewable energy, to improve power delivery systems to be more reliable, efficient and safe as well as to use unconventional water sources or nano-enabled construction products therefore providing better ecosystem and livelihood conditions.
However, the benefits of incorporating nanomaterials in green products and processes may bring challenges with them for environmental, health and safety risks, ethical and social issues, as well as uncertainty concerning market and consumer acceptance. Therefore, the authors' aim is to examine the relationships among guiding principles for a green economy and opportunities for introducing nano-applications in this field as well as to critically analyze their practical challenges, especially related to the impact that they may have on the health and safety of workers involved in this innovative sector.
These are principally due to the not fully known nanomaterial hazardous properties, as well as to the difficulties in characterizing exposure and defining emerging risks for the workforce. Interestingly, this review proposes action strategies for the assessment, management and communication of risks aimed to precautionary adopt preventive measures including formation and training of employees, collective and personal protective equipment, health surveillance programs to protect the health and safety of nano-workers.
It finally underlines the importance that occupational health considerations will have on achieving an effectively sustainable development of nanotechnology.