Skip to main content

Table 1 Example relationships among guiding principles for a green economy and the opportunities and challenges for nano-applications

From: Opportunities and challenges of nanotechnology in the green economy

Guiding principles for a green economy (based on the proposals of ref.[127])
(P1) Is a means for achieving sustainable development;
(P2) Creates decent work and green jobs;
(P3) Improves governance and the rule of law – by being inclusive; democratic; participatory; accountable; transparent and stable;
(P4) Is equitable, fair and just – between and within countries and between generations;
(P5) Reduces poverty, and increases well-being, livelihoods, social protection, and access to essential services;
(P6) Protects biodiversity and ecosystems;
(P7) Is resource and energy efficient;
(P8) Respects planetary boundaries or ecological limits or scarcity;
(P9) Uses integrated decision making;
(P10) Internalizes externalities;
(P11) Measures beyond gross domestic product indicators and metrics
Example opportunities for nano-applications in a green economy (and the related principles)
Energy conversion and storage -Smart energy nanotechnology can improve power delivery systems to be more efficient, reliable and safe (P1, P2, P5).
-Nano-devices may trade on renewable energy produced through naturally replenished resources, i.e. sunlight and wind. This may reduce fossils as energy resources and the impact for the greenhouse gas emissions balance (P3, P4, P5, P6, P7, P9).
-Energy efficient nanotechnology requires less energy to perform the same function - getting more use out of the already created energy (P7, P8, P10).
Water clean-up technologies -Design nano-enabled infrastructure necessary to manage water and keep it clean is inextricably linked to prospects for economic development and better livelihood conditions (P1, P2).
-Access to clean water and adequate sanitation is a basic human right and is critical to the alleviation of poverty (P3, P4, P5).
-Investment in infrastructures and considerable greening of water policies are necessary to reduce the cost to face water shortages (P8, P9, P10, P11).
Construction industry -Nanotechnology aims to increase the efficiency buildings use resources - energy, water, and materials - while reducing building impacts on environment and human health through better siting, design, construction, and removal (P1, P2, P6, P7, P8, P10, P11).
-NMs applied to the surfaces of structural elements of the buildings can contribute to environmental cleaning by photo-catalytic reactions (P1, P2, P6, P7, P8).
Other applications -Nano-enabled applications may provide a slow release and dosage of fertilizers and an efficient water reservoir for plants. This may contribute to a greater agricultural productivity, especially in countries with prolonged dry spells (P1, P2, P4, P5).
-Nano-packaging - with improved barrier and mechanical properties - may allow a longer safe storage of food, especially in regions where cooling is not easily available (P2, P4, P5, P8).
-Nano-sensors may improve the quality and reduce the cost of continuous environmental monitoring. Nano-remediation of environmental pollution may exceed conventional methods in efficiency and speed (P1, P2, P6, P7).
Practical challenges for nano-applications in a green economy
Technical -Efficient synthetic pathways must be developed to obtain NMs “safe by design” (e.g. through green chemistry; optimized reaction chemistry; minimized energy consumption and costs; employment of benign feed stocks and reagents; avoidance of hazardous substances and pollutants);
-Analytical methods must be developed to obtain a reliable nanomaterial characterization and tools to detect, monitor and track NMs in the environment and biological media.
Biological -Biological impact must be determined for NM primary and acquired physico-chemical properties (size, surface area, chemical composition, protein corona as a nano-bio interaction) on ecosystems, as well as in in vitro and in vivo models;
-The “life-cycle” impact must be assessed for NMs on the environment and biological systems: NMs emitted from production processes, or released from nano-enabled devices during their assembly, use, recycling or disposal.
Health and safety -NM key health effects must be defined: e.g. pulmonary toxicity, genotoxicity and carcinogenicity.
-Information must be developed on the potential toxicity of NMs available for employers and workers involved in NM research and developmental areas, as well as in nano-enabled device manufacture, assembly, application and disposal, avoiding dispersion of essential information.
-A highly skilled workforce must be built and sustained, that is well trained to face emerging risks as well as known physico-chemical risks in new situations and also trained to avoid accidents.
Public and occupational policies -Participation of scientific, governmental, industry and workforce representatives must be pursued for the processes of opinion forming, education and decision making in shaping green nanotechnology.
-Nano-green jobs must redirect current path of environmental decline and create economic opportunity, strengthening local urban and rural communities.
-The green economy policies must balance nanotechnology environmental, societal, occupational and health promotion benefits, with commercialization costs and risks.
-Companies involved in green-nanotechnology innovations must plan a precautionary risk management approach by identifying actual risks, planning/implementing control measures and risk communication.