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U.S. Funds a Big Look at Tiny Materials

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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The federal government has put nearly $10 million into examining the environmental impact of science's fastest-growing field: nanomaterials.

The goal: to understand the impact of nanomaterials throughout their life cycle—from design to disposal.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded a $5 million grant to Arizona State University (Tempe) and a $4.9 million grant to the University of California, Santa Barbara, the agency announced April 10.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Research projects at Arizona State University and UC Santa Barbara are expected to help minimize some of the risks associated with nanomaterials and enable the design of safer products.

Nanotechnology generally refers to engineered structures, devices and systems between 1 and 100 nanometers long. The engineered nanomaterials can take on unique optical, magnetic, electrical and other properties.

Many of technology’s burgeoning first generation of products, including building materials, paints and coatings, are composed of engineered nanoparticles, such as metal oxides, nanotubes, nanowires, quantum dots, and carbon fullerenes.

By 2020, the National Science Foundation estimates that nanotechnology will have a $3 trillion impact on the global economy.

Knowledge Gap

The EPA grants reflect concern that the development of these promising materials may be moving too quickly for due examination of their risks.

“While nanomaterials have shown great potential in electronics, medicine and other fields, we still know relatively little about their effects on human health and the environment,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest.

EPA administrator

Jared Blumenfeld, EPA's regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, says the research grants will help close knowledge gaps with respect to nanomaterials.

The research at Arizona State University and UC Santa Barbara is expected to help minimize some of these risks and enable the design of safer products.

Research Details

Arizona State University’s research will focus on the trade-offs between using nanomaterials to improve the functionality of consumer products and the potential risks to humans and the environment, according to the EPA.

The research proposed will address the knowledge gaps that prevent the safe development of nano-enabled products, and has the potential to improve design and processes of products with nanomaterials, the agency said.

UC Santa Barbara will use its funds to develop an open-access, online tool to evaluate life-cycle impacts for chemicals and materials at an early stage of the chemical product development process—when the precise manufacturing routes and fates of the products are still uncertain, according to the EPA.

An international network of academic, industry and government partners will collaborate to develop the tool, called the Chemical Life-Cycle Builder (CLB).


Tagged categories: Coatings technology; EPA; Funding; Government; Nanotechnology; Research

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