Nanotechnology could provide a green path to a sustainable economy

In a report aimed primarily at policymakers, the Washington DC-based Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies shows how it is possible to use nanotechnology to reduce pollution, conserve natural resources and create a clean, green and sustainable economy.

'Green nanotechnology: it's easier than you think' (© 2007 Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies)

The report – “Green nanotechnology: it’s easier than you think” – highlights research breakthroughs in green chemistry and engineering, provides industry perspectives and outlines various policy options.

According to David Rejeski, Director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, the report grew out of a feeling that there is currently not enough focus on the greening of nanotechnology. Rejeski says that there is more effort directed at studying risks, rather than trying to avoid or minimise them in the first place. He also cautions that there is no guarantee that the nanotechnology revolution will be either clean or green.

“One way companies can deal proactively with regulatory uncertainty – and it will be a constant problem into the foreseeable future – is by minimising the risks of their production processes,” says Rejeski. “There is also a growing interest in the investment community for clean technology, so using nanotechnology to develop green products makes more sense.”

Rejeski adds that the message of greening the emerging production infrastructure and products is diffuse, and lost in the almost daily reporting of risks associated with nanotechnology. “Our goal is to sharpen the message and debate about why green nanotechnology makes sense, and makes sense now. You can expect more activities in this direction from our project in the future.”

James Hutchison, a green chemist at the University of Oregon, favours an approach which anticipates problems, and generates solutions that avoid or minimise them. “Our own experience has shown that this kind of approach can (often) lead to solutions that are not only greener, but also cheaper and better,” says Hutchison. “It provides a framework for innovation as well as protection of the environment and human health.”

Article first published in Nanomaterials News.