SUN: Paving sustainable nano-innovation through lifecycle risk assessment, prevention and management

A. Marcomini, D. Hristozov, K. Alstrup Jensen, V. Stone, J. Scott-Fordsmand, B. Nowack, A. Costa, O. Panzer, M. Dalla Valle, T. Fernandes, W. Wohlleben, T. Wilkins
University Ca' Foscari Venice, IT

Keywords: sustainable nanotechnology


Our understanding of the environmental and health risks associated with nanotechnology is still limited and may result in stagnation of growth and innovation. There have been other technologies that revealed unexpected ecological and health effects only several years after their broader market introduction. In the worst cases this caused tremendous costs for society and the enterprises in the form of lock-in effects, over-balancing regulations and demolished consumer confidence. This has emphasized the need for an integrative and adaptive management of long-term risks at the nanotechnology design stage to ensure the long-term sustainability of this technology. Sustainable nanotechnology is being touted as a holistic and pragmatic concept that can guide incremental nanotechnology development amidst significant data gaps and uncertainty. The new European Seventh Framework Programme SUN (Sustainable Nanotechnologies) project, worth 14.5 million euro, is based on this concept, embracing the hypothesis that the current knowledge on environmental and health risks of manufactured nanomaterials (MN), whilst limited, can nevertheless guide nanomanufacturing to avoid future liabilities. SUN applies an integrated approach that addresses the complete lifecycle of production, use and disposal of existing nanotechnologies to ensure holistic nano environmental, health and safety (n-EHS) evaluation (Figure 1). The project aims to give clear answers to questions from regulatory authorities, and open new possibilities for innovators to design greener nanotechnologies. This will be achieved through development and application of new methods and tools for prediction of long-term exposure, effects and risks for humans and ecosystems (services) and implementable practices for risk prevention and management, including development of guidance for safe disposal and recycling. This approach aims to protect innovation by providing industries with data and prospective tools to streamline effective decision making about safer products and processes. In order to achieve this, SUN will combine Risk Assessment and Lifecycle Assessment to develop a user-friendly software-based Decision Support System (DSS) for practical use by industries and regulators. The industrial partners in the SUN consortium will evaluate and “reality-check” the DSS against real industrial case studies in terms of cost/benefit and insurance risk. This validation will culminate in guidelines for safe nanoscale product and process design.SUN was envisioned to advance the understanding of the interactions, fate, environmental impacts and long-term risks of MN. However, we aim to walk significantly down the road from scientific implications to industrial applications while at the same time inform regulatory oversight. We will do this through the top-down integration of n-EHS data and tools with stakeholder values to support more adequate decisions about sustainable production, use and disposal of nanotechnologies.