Nanotechnologies: Where should they take us? Have your say

Environment

Nanotechnology and Environment

  • Nowadays we can find applications of nanotechnologies to the environment on the market, like remediation, water treatment, eco-friendly packaging and oil absorbers.

  • Water-treatment devices

    Picture source: futuretimeline.net

    Water purification using nanotechnologies exploits nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes and alumina fibres for nanofiltration. The main advantages of using nanofilters, as opposed to conventional systems, are that less pressure is required to pass water across the filter: although the pores are smaller nanotubes have smooth interiors and water can flow more easily. In addition they are more efficient, and they have incredibly large surface areas and can be more easily cleaned. Nanofilters can remove sediments, chemical waste, charged particles, bacteria and other pathogens, like viruses. They can also remove toxic trace elements such as arsenic, and viscous liquid impurities such as oil.

  • Oil absorbers

    Oil spills in seawater are of great concern and have detrimental environmental consequences. A new approach being researched is the use of aerogels (a nanomaterial) modified with water-repellent molecules to enhance the interaction with the oil. These aerogels have very large surface area so they can absorb sixteen times their weight of oil. They act like a sponge: once the oil has been absorbed, the “oil-soaked sponge” can be removed easily.

  • Biodegradable plastics

    The wide-spread use of plastic packaging has a negative ecological impact. Eco-friendly packaging materials are needed. Current solutions use some natural polymers called biopolymers; however many suffer of several limitations, for instance low moisture barrier properties and poor mechanical properties. A possible solution consists in including nanoparticles in the biopolymer and creating a “bionanocomposite” which has better mechanical and barrier properties, and is fully compostable.

  • Potential risks

    Some concern exists regarding the use of nanomaterials in soil and water treatment: once dispersed in a contaminated site, would the nanoparticles be mobile to a point that they could be taken up by plants or animals at the site and adversely affect them? Biodegradable nanoparticles (like the ones used in biodegradable plastics) are likely to be less problematic; nevertheless there is a need to investigate these safety aspects, and this is the subject of numerous international research programs. These concerns belong to the more general field of environmental impact assessment of the use of nanoparticles, which includes both risk assessments and life-cycle analysis to understand the short-term and long term effects.

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About nanopinion

  • nanopinion is an EC-funded project bringing together 17 partners from 11 countries with the aim of monitoring public opinion on what we hope from innovation with nanotechnologies. The project is aimed citizens with a special focus on hard-to-reach target groups, which are people who do not normally encounter and give their opinion nanotechnologies at first hand.
  • Dialogue is facilitated online and in outreach events in 30 countries presenting different participatory formats.
  • To promote an informed debate, we also run a strong press & social media campaign and offer a repository with more than 150 resources.
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