Nanotechnology News

News Item 1: Report Finds Challenges Lie Ahead In Applying EPA Statutes to Nanotech Waste

EPA must make key decisions about how to apply the two major end-of-life statutes to nanotechnology waste in order to ensure adequate oversight for these technologies, according to a report from the Wilson Centers Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.

However, the report notes that the agency lacks much of the data on human health and eco-toxicity that form the basis for such determinations, creating some tough challenges ahead in EPAs decision-making process.

In addition, firms that manufacture nanomaterials, investors, and insurers should consider the new kinds of liabilities and environmental risks that may emerge as a result of the release and disposal of waste nanomaterials into the environment. The report, "Where Does the Nano Go? End-of Life Regulation of Nanotechnologies," written by environmental law experts Linda Breggin and John Pendergrass of the Environmental Law Institute, was commissioned by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, an initiative of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The report is available at http://www.nanotechproject.org/132.

The report provides an analysis to date of two key EPA-administered laws that regulate the end-of-life management strategies for nanotechnology materials and products. These are the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as the Superfund statute. According to the report, companies must recognize that as a result of CERCLA, RCRA and other environmental statutes, the environmental due diligence that accompanies many commercial transactions and securities offerings should include an examination of the handling and disposal of nanomaterials.

Insurers also need to take into account the potential for CERCLA and RCRA liability arising from releases or disposal of waste nanomaterials and products in drafting new insurance policies, interpreting existing policies and planning for future potential liabilities. Central to all risk management efforts is the need for EPA to conduct outreach and education to the private sector, particularly to small companies and start-ups, about how RCRA and CERCLA could apply to nanomaterials.

Today, with hundreds of nanotechnology products already on the market, one of the questions in greatest need of attention is how various forms of nanomaterials will be disposed of and treated at the end of their use, the authors of the report stated. They may find their way into landfills or incinerators, and, eventually, into the air, soil or water.

Leslie Carothers, president of the Environmental Law Institute, noted at the release of the report that, the end-of-life regulation of nanotechnology is a topic that must be addressed now, before EPA, other agencies and the business community are forced to respond to uncertainties in the law and its interpretation without any guidance.

News Item 2: Nanotechnology Helps Scientists Develop Flexible Sensors for Hydrogen Vehicles

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have used their insights into nanomaterials to create flexible hydrogen sensors, which are at the heart of hydrogen fuel cells used in hydrogen vehicles.

In comparison to previously designed hydrogen sensors, which are rigid and use expensive, pure palladium, the new sensors are "bendy" and use single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) to improve efficiency and reduce cost. The development of these hydrogen sensors will help to ensure economical, environmental and societal safety, as the nation is realizing the potential for a more hydrogen-based economy, officials said on July 31.

Yugang Sun and H. Hau Wang, researchers in Argonne's Center for Nanoscale Materials and Materials Science Division, respectively, fabricated the new sensing devices using a two-step process separated by high and low temperatures. First, at around 900 degrees C, researchers grow SWNTs on a silicon substrate using chemical vapor deposition. Then, researchers transfer the SWNTs onto a plastic substrate at temperatures lower than 150 degrees C using a technique called dry transfer printing.

This precise process is what allows the film of nanotubes to form on the plastic, after which the palladium nanoparticles can be deposited on the SWNTs to make the sensors. The palladium nanoparticles play an important role in increasing the interaction between hydrogen and the SWNTs to enhance the change of resistance of the device when it is exposed to hydrogen molecules.

According to Sun, these sensors exhibit excellent sensing performance in terms of high sensitivity, fast response time and quick recovery, and the use of plastic sheets reduces their overall weight and increases their mechanical flexibility and shock resistance. The sensors are also able to be wrapped around curved surfaces, and this proves useful in many applications, notably in vehicles, aircraft and portable electronics.

"The leakage of hydrogen caused by tiny pinholes in the pipe of a space shuttle, for example, could not be easily detected by individual rigid detectors because the locations of pinholes are not predetermined," Sun said. "However, laminating a dense array of flexible sensors on the surfaces of the pipe can detect any hydrogen leakage prior to diffusion to alert control units to take action."

For more information, contact Argonne at http://www.anl.gov.

News Item 3: Report Examines Impact of Nanotechnology on Quest for Sustainable Energy

On July 3, Research and Markets released a report that examines the impact of nanotechnology on the quest for sustainable energy.

Through a detailed analysis of technologies both currently available and under development the report, "Nanotechnologies for Sustainable Energy: Reducing Carbon Emissions Through Clean Technologies and Renewable Energy Sources," finds that:

  • The major near-term benefit of nanotechnologies will be in reducing weight in the transportation sector with nanocomposite materials quickly diffusing across the automotive and aerospace industries.
  • Over the next seven years, highest growth opportunities will come from the application of nanomaterials to making better use of existing resources rather than generating new forms of renewable energy.
  • Highest growth rates will be in the development of renewable energy sources while the materials sector is already crowded.
  • Current applications of nanotechnologies will result in a global annual saving of 8 thousand tons of carbon dioxide in 2007, rising to over a million tons by 2014.

For more information, contact Research and Markets at http://www.researchandmarkets.com.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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