Responsible Development of Emerging Nano-enabled Products

Thursday, April 26, 2012

12:00 pm to 1:00 pm


Jacqueline Isaacs

Jacqueline Isaacs, Ph.D.
Professor and Interim Chair
Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
Northwestern University

Abstract: It is estimated that nanotechnologies were used to develop $147 billion worth of products in 2007 and over $3 trillion worth of manufactured goods from all industry sectors is expected in 2015. The National Nanotechnology Initiative 2011 Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Research Strategy document sets several clear priorities for future research that are related to the ongoing research at the NSF Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing (CHN) at Northeastern University. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is used as an essential tool for integrating applied and basic research, and is performed concurrently as processes are under development. Further, the ethical, legal and societal (ELSI) concerns for responsible, sustainable development of nano-enabled products are concurrently assessed.

An overview of CHN’s research in the Research Thrust 4 “Responsible Nanomanufacturing” will be presented for six project topics: 1) environmental and occupational health and safety; 2) high throughput screening approach for evaluating the toxicity of engineered nanomaterials; 3) broad spectrum biosensor of toxins and pathogens utilizing living cells for biological detection; 4) promoting safe development of nanotechnology: the role of state government; 5) value sensitive design and nanomanufacturing; and 6) process economics, scale-up and life cycle assessment. More detail will be provided of the LCA methodology and its application for carbon nanotube (CNT) based products.

Responsible commercialization of nano-enabled products (NEPs) hinges on three interwoven dynamics: 1) the successful development of new manufacturing techniques; 2) the creation of an economically viable product that meets societal needs; and 3) a conscious and systematic consideration of short and long-term societal impacts to avoid unintended and unduly harmful consequences. An overview of the planned work for scalable nanomanufacturing and commercialization will be described, along with preliminary results for the environmental implications of the fabrication of several near-to-market products containing CNTs. First-order predictions are made for the use and end-of-life stages. Because there is limited information regarding the toxicological effects of CNTs on human health or the environment, results from LCA software cannot indicate the effects of CNTs. Additional work was undertaken using the USEtox model to quantify and compare aquatic ecotoxicity impacts over the life cycle of CNTs as a first step towards integrating these impacts for CNT-enabled products. It is anticipated that this work could contribute to reducing the potential unintended consequences to human health and the environment.