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Posted: Jan 15, 2016
Green nano: Positive environmental effects through the use of nanotechnology (page 3 of 4)
Green nano design principles
The underlying idea of the design principles is to approximate products and processes as far as possible to natural processes and to create these as safe and environmentally sound as possible. For this purpose, four main areas were identified with varying farreaching influence on the production process (biomimetics, resource efficiency, minimum risk, energy and environmental technologies), and specified (Box 4). Thereby different points were analyzed where questions of sustainability could either explicitly or implicitly be integrated.
Box 4: The German NanoCommission‘s green nano design principles (partly abbreviated)22
The areas of biomimetics and resource efficiency are reflective of the demand to use little material and energy, and this for as long as possible, at low loss, and for accurate production. For this purpose, natural and simple production processes play a part at every level, e.g., through the use of local material and energy resources or through molecular self-organization.
There is a two-fold approach to potential safety risks for humans or the environment: There shall be as few contact points with nanoproducts as possible; and toxic substances as well as risky nanostructures should be avoided while the use of nanofunctionalities should be responsible.
In comparison, the area of energy and environmental technologies points to new development areas: among the mentioned are resource and energy use, (pollutant) monitoring and emissions reductions as well as new options for improvements of the state of the environment.
The approach of the green nano design principles is complementary to regulatory measures. Thus, their application presupposes an already ongoing (public) debate on nanotechnology in addition to a joint feeling of responsibility of all involved actors.24
Unlike the Woodrow Wilson Institute, the German green nano design principles integrate both general industrial processes and environmental technologies and attempt to take a holistic look at production processes.
However, aside from resource and energy procurement, this leaves out local, cultural or (as relevant for planning) social realities which are mentioned in the principles on green technology. The main focus is laid on the technical production, whereas other factors which could play a role for the implementation of technological systems are not considered.
Green nano in research: Examples of environmental applications
The following lists exemplary research projects25 which can be attributed to green nano. All projects have an environmentally friendly component, either in the potential context of application, by improving an industrial process, or through the type of technology. As they deal with different aspects of environmental protection, the applied aspects of the design principles also vary (Table 1).
Table 1: Overview of environmental aspects dealt with in exemplary projects. (click on image to enlarge)
Programmatic terms in concept and application
As shown above, the “green” component is a common topic in all discussed projects, even if the environmental effects vary. Each of these projects falls within one or several points of the green nano design principles, e.g., the improvement of environmental monitoring and environmental analytics, environmental restoration, resource efficiency through energy conservation and recyclability. In the case of ceramic nanofiltration, the main focus was resource efficiency and new technological possibility (such as the application in extreme parameters): At the center of attention are the recyclability of water or other organic solvents as well as a higher energy efficiency of membrane technology in comparison to other methods of separation.
This also offers economic advantages (less consumption and therefore less costs of procurement and possibly disposal) while simultaneously aiming at environmental protection (in comparison to other separation procedures).32
The dependence of environmental benefits on context is even clearer in the example of sensing technology: While usability and handiness, in addition to improvements in measurement, are primary motives, actual environmental benefits (in disregard of the resource-intensive production33) are merely given through the area of application.34
Hence, the topic of (ecological) sustainability plays an important role in research – on the one hand in the context of its results and in the research objectives, and on the other hand throughout the process of research, i.e. the daily research routine.
However, this is hardly achieved through abstract concepts but rather through specific requirements in calls for projects or through requirements in industrial applications.35 On closer examination, it was discovered that researchers partly were aware of the design principles but did not implement them directly.36
Even if elements thereof were taken into consideration, the green nano design principles have so far not established themselves as an action framework for scientific research.