Study: Nanotech processing 'greener' than oil refining

HOUSTON, Oct. 4, 2005 -- Using a method for assessing the premiums that companies pay for insurance, a team of scientists and insurance experts have concluded that the manufacturing processes for five, near-market nanomaterials -- including quantum dots, carbon nanotubes and buckyballs -- present fewer risks to the environment than some common industrial processes like oil refining. For two of the nanomaterials nanotubes and alumoxane nanoparticles -- manufacturing risks were comparable with those of making wine or aspirin.

The study is available online and slated for publication in the Nov. 15 issue of Environmental Science and Technology. It compares the environmental and health risks associated with the production of five nanomaterials -- single-walled carbon nanotubes, buckyballs, zinc selenide quantum dots, alumoxane nanoparticles and titantium dioxide nanoparticles -- with the risks of making six commonplace products -- silicon wafers, wine, high-density plastic, lead-acid car batteries, refined petroleum and aspirin.

"There are many unknowns about the impacts of nanomaterials on living organisms and ecosystems, but a great deal is known about the properties of the materials that are used to create nanomaterials," said study co-author Mark Wiesner, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University. "Our goal was to produce an early estimate of the environmental 'footprint' for nanomaterials fabrication.

"The jury is still out on whether some nanomaterials pose a risk, but it is not too early to consider how we might avoid environmental and health risks associated with making these new materials," Wiesner said. "We have a narrow window of opportunity to guide the emerging nanomaterial industry towards a green future. With this study, we hope to establish a baseline for the safe, responsible development of the nanomaterials manufacturing industry."

In developing their risk assessments, the research team develope

Contact: Jade Boyd
Rice University

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