NanoFabNet Insights: Sustainability in Nanotechnology and Nanofabrication

In October 2020, the public Deliverable 2.1 of the NanoFabNet Project called Report on the Concepts & Disciplines of Sustainability in Nanotechnology & Nanofabrication was submitted to the European Commission, detailing the research the partners have undertaken in proposing a thorough description of the content and of the constituting concepts and disciplines of the three identified pillars of the NanoFabNet’s own concept of Sustainability in Nanotechnology and Nanofabrication: Environment, Health and Safety issues; Life Cycle Sustainability issues; Ethics and Governance issues.

Due to the persistent uncertainties about the different impacts of nanomaterials and nanoparticles throughout their life cycle, Environment, Health and Safety issues are of great importance for the development of nanotechnology and nanofabrication. Nanosafety is a complex discipline asking for the cooperation of multiple sectors (material science, biology, toxicology, ecotoxicology, etc.). Safety Assessment of engineered nanomaterials and nano-enabled products must include nanomaterial identification and classification, the study of nanomaterial exposure and transformation, the knowledge of hazard mechanisms related to effects on human health and the environment, and the development of tools for predictive risk assessment and management (including databases and ontologies). The standard structure for risk assessment of chemicals remains a starting point to build a new and specific procedure adapted to engineered nanomaterials and nano-enabled products. Public acceptance towards nano-enabled products could increase if manufacturers can demonstrate their safety, and if regulatory bodies can guide these manufacturers by providing clear and harmonized regulations.

Life Cycle Sustainability issues related to nano-enabled products are a growing field of study. Sustainability implies a certain long-term balance between human civilization and the biosphere capacity. The common Life Cycle Assessment methodology was defined in the 1990’s and covers potential environmental impacts of product systems such as climate change or eutrophication. It is currently growingly applied to engineered nanomaterials and nano-enabled products, even if this application raises specific challenges, due to the lack of representative inventory data (low maturity, confidentiality issues) and of (eco)toxicity impact factors. Some of the available sustainability approaches and indicators can be combined and integrated in different tools able to support sustainability-informed decision-making processes in Nanotechnology and Nanofabrication.

Ethics and Governance issues have been associated to the development of Nanotechnology and Nanofabrication from the beginning. Due to the enabling nature of nanotechnology and the diversity of its applications, it includes in particular a diversity of concerns in terms of privacy, autonomy, social divide, environmental justice, human enhancement, etc. Ethical Assessment of nanotechnology is addressed by different schools and through a plurality of available tools. The ways of a good governance able to influence technological choices towards desirable futures are still under research. Public engagement and upstream engagement of a plurality of stakeholders are a core element of it.

NanoFabNet therefore proposes a list-based delineation of the concepts and notions implied above, associated to a complete and updated bibliography. It paves the way for the progressive definition of the own NanoFabNet Concept of Sustainable Nanofabrication.

Submitted by Dr Fernand Doridot

Teacher-Researcher at ICAM of Lille (France)