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Posted: Jan 15, 2016

Green nano: Positive environmental effects through the use of nanotechnology (page 1 of 4)

(Nanowerk Spotlight) The green nano design principles developed by the German NanoCommission constitute an attempt to establish consensus-based guidelines for environmentally friendly and sustainable production. This initiative fits into the objective of international research and development policy (e.g., Responsible Research and Innovation, RRI) and shall enable to incorporate desired societal aspects into technology developments as soon as possible.
The present dossier is concerned with the question to what extent a concept along those lines can contribute to environmentally friendly developments in the area of nanotechnology. For this purpose, it introduces research projects which have implemented certain aspects of the green nano design principles.
Moreover, on the basis of technological and scientific research and development, the question is raised whether or not, and if so, to what extent concepts such as green nano design principles can support the incorporation of environmental aspects into research.
Introduction
Nanotechnology has long been a focus of risk research. Its effects on life and health but also on the environment are continuously studied in order to determine and mitigate possible negative consequences at an early stage.
However, there are also areas of application where there is an assumption that nanotechnology can contribute to environmental protection and sustainable production. It must be reminded, though, that statements on the environmental and sustainable potential may not be generalized and must therefore be analyzed separately with regard to each type of application in order to assess the environmental potential.1
This dossier deals with the topic of nanotechnology and environment on several levels. Firstly, it studies the term green nano and introduces different concepts for an environmentally friendly approach. Secondly, it lists specific research and development projects which try to implement green nano. Finally, it answers the question whether or not, and if so, to which extent the green nano design principles developed by the German NanoCommission have (had) an influence on recent research and development on nanotechnology in the environmental field.
Concepts for responsible technology development
It has often been expressed that the development of new technologies should increasingly be aligned with socially desirable objectives. Concepts such as the EU’s Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) shows that societal values and aspirations should be integrated stronger at the political level into the innovation process. Schomberg (2013)2 provides a (preliminary) definition of RRI: “Responsible Research and Innovation is a transparent, interactive process by which societal actors and innovators become mutually responsive to each other with a view to the (ethical) acceptability, sustainability and societal desirability of the innovation process and its marketable products”3.
However, the idea to intentionally direct technology development into one preferred direction has existed already previously: For example, the so-called “Leitbild approach” enables to specify an overarching objective (e.g. sustainability) through combining several guiding principles. These are then further specified and developed by different actors. Thus, in this manner a concept such as green chemistry (see below) could contribute to the establishment of more sustainable research and production4.
The earlier technology development employs mission statements, the better their assumed effects are.5 In this vein, the mission statement green nano should facilitate a more long-term orientation of nano research and development activities.6
As a framework for sustainable research and development, it has been said to exert a particularly strong influence at the start of the production chain as technology development can be shaped easiest and most fundamentally at this stage. Later on, this is more difficult as further down along the supply chain more and more actors are directly or indirectly involved in the production process.
Hence, the notion that nanotechnology is a field where an orientation according to a desired objective (e.g. sustainability) is particularly easy to achieve also stems from the fact that it is a relatively young field. The following therefore applies: The earlier there is available knowledge concerning potential effects, the easier it is to formulate guidelines and general conditions.7
Environmentally friendly design can be a first step. However, there are certain limits in this regard: Thus, in order to shape processes and technologies in a sustainable manner, conditions of application of products play a major role.8 While specific intended purposes have certain design requirements, actual effects can hardly be assessed at an early stage.9
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