Nanotechnology for green innovation – a new OECD paper


QDOTS imagesCAKXSY1K 8(Nanowerk News) A new paper by the OECD Working Party  on Nanotechnology (“Nanotechnology for Green Innovation”; pdf)  brings together information collected through discussions and projects  undertaken relevant to the development and use of nanotechnology for green  innovation.

It relies in particular on preliminary results from the WPN project  on the Responsible Development of Nanotechnology and on conclusions from a  symposium, organised by the OECD WPN together with the United States National  Nanotechnology Initiative, which took place in March 2012 in Washington DC,  United States, on Assessing the Economic Impact of Nanotechnology. It also draws  on material from the four background papers that were developed for the  symposium. The background papers were:

  • “Challenges  for Governments in Evaluating the Return on Investment from Nanotechnology and  its Broader Economic Impact” by Eleanor O’Rourke and Mark Morrison of the  Institute of Nanotechnology, United Kingdom;
  • “Finance  and Investor Models in Nanotechnology” by Tom Crawley, Pekka Koponen, Lauri  Tolvas and Terhi Marttila of Spinverse, Finland;
  • “The  Economic Contributions of Nanotechnology to Green and Sustainable Growth” by  Philip Shapira and Jan Youtie, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, United  States; and
  • “Models,  Tool and Metrics Available to Assess the Economic Impact of Nanotechnology” by  Katherine Bojczuk and Ben Walsh of Oakdene Hollins, United Kingdom.
The purpose of the paper is to provide background information  for future work by the WPN on the application of nanotechnology to green  innovation. Here is the Executive Summary:
The need for development of affordable and safe ways of  addressing global challenges, in areas such as energy, environment and health,  has never been more pressing. The global demand for energy is expected to  increase by more than 30% between 2010 and 2035 (International Energy Agency,  2011). More than 800 million people worldwide are currently without access to  safe drinking water (WHO, 2010). Such challenges have resulted in increasing  attention being paid by policymakers, researchers, and corporations to new  technologies, and the application of technologies in new ways. Green innovation  is one such new way of addressing global challenges.
Green innovation is innovation which reduces environmental  impacts: by increasing energy efficiency, by reducing waste or greenhouse gas  emissions and/or by minimising the consumption of nonrenewable raw materials,  for example. OECD countries and emerging economies alike are seeking new ways to  use green innovation for increased competitiveness through a transition to a  so-called “green growth” scenario based on the application of technology (OECD,  2012a). Within the group of technologies which are expected to help to  contribute to that transition, nanotechnology is attracting particular  attention.
Since it began its work in 2007, the OECD Working Party on  Nanotechnology (WPN) has developed a number of projects addressing emerging  policy issues of science, technology and innovation related to the responsible  development of nanotechnology. During that time, discussions within the WPN have increasingly highlighted the potential of nanotechnology to support green  growth, focusing on two particular aspects: i) the potential for nanotechnology  to contribute to green innovation; and ii) the potential and perceived risks and  environmental costs of using the technology. The second of these may reduce the  ability of nanotechnology to achieve its green goals, i.e. to meet its “green  vocation”.
Green nanotechnology in the context of a green  innovation transition
Nanotechnology for green innovation – green nanotechnology –  aims for products and processes that are safe, energy efficient, reduce waste  and lessen greenhouse gas emissions. Such products and processes are based on  renewable materials and/or have a low net impact on the environment. Green  nanotechnology is also about manufacturing processes that are economically and  environmentally sustainable.
Green nanotechnology is increasingly being referred to in  connection with other concepts such as green chemistry and sustainable and green  engineering and manufacturing. The principles of green chemistry can be applied  to produce safer and more sustainable nanomaterials and more efficient and sustainable nano manufacturing processes. Conversely, the principles of  nanoscience can be used to foster green chemistry by using nanotechnology to  make manufacturing more environmentally friendly. Green nanotechnology can have  multiple roles and impacts across the whole value chain of a product and can be  of an enabling nature, being used as a tool to further support technology or  product development, for example:
  • Nanotechnology  can play a fundamental role in bringing a key functionality to a product (e.g.  nanotechnology-enabled batteries);
  • Nanotechnology  may constitute a small percentage of a final product whose key functions hinge  on exploiting the size-dependent phenomena of nanotechnology (e.g. electric cars  using nanotechnology-enabled batteries);
  • Nanotechnology  can improve or enable sustainable and green processes that lead to the  development and production of a nanotechnology-enabled product without that  final product containing any nanomaterials.
Significant advances have been made in the field of  nanotechnology in the past decade and more, helping it to move closer to  achieving its green potential. However, the economic and environmental sustainability of green solutions involving nanotechnology is in many cases as  yet unclear and some novel solutions bring with them environmental, health and  safety (EHS) risks (e.g. high energy manufacturing processes and processes which  may rely on toxic materials). These risks must be mitigated in advancing green  nanotechnology solutions.
Green nanotechnology is expected to increasingly impact on a  large range of economic sectors, ranging from food packaging to automotives,  from the tyre industry to electronics. Nanotechnology is also increasingly being  applied in conjunction with other technologies, such as biotechnology and energy technologies, leading to products incorporating multiple green technological  innovations.
The policy environment for green nanotechnology
When reviewing government strategies for science, technology and  innovation, the presence of nanotechnology for green innovation is apparent.  Recurrent priorities in governmental programmes include nanotechnology for  energy production and storage; nanotechnology for water treatment; and nanotechnology for the environment (in particular, in reducing pressure on raw  materials and in fostering sustainable manufacturing and sustainably  manufactured products).
In many countries, supports for green nanotechnology have been  mainstreamed within more general efforts to ‘green’ the trajectory of the  economy. Green nanotechnology operates in a complex landscape of fiscal and  legislative policies and allied measures for green growth and science,  technology and innovation. Framing conditions – such as regulation, standards  and research, environmental and enterprise policy – are strongly influencing the  development of green nanotechnology for processes or products.
If the reasons behind investment in nanotechnology vary to some  extent at national levels (depending on national scientific and economic  specialisations, competitiveness goals and societal objectives), there still  remains a common trend, visible in both OECD and emerging economies, in  governments seeing nanotechnology as having the potential to address social and  environmental challenges while supporting industrial competitiveness and  economic growth. Policies for green nanotechnology broadly aim to facilitate its  development and its potential to be used for efficient, affordable and safe  applications. Technology policies mainly take the form of R&D investments –  increasingly directed towards more applied research although basic research is  often retained as an important area for investment – and support for small and  medium size enterprises (SMEs). Efforts are also being made to reduce  uncertainty around the use of nanotechnology (especially regulatory uncertainty)  and to ensure responsible development. These are evidenced in the investment in  a growing number of initiatives (at national and international levels) which are  looking at environmental health and safety (EHS) risks and ethical and social  issues.
Diminishing and sharing the costs of the development and  commercialisation of green nanotechnology (i.e. risk reduction and sharing) is  also a focus for policy intervention. Although green nanotechnology is  increasingly demonstrating its potential to move out of the laboratory and into  concrete solutions for products and processes, there is still a great hesitancy  from companies to lead the way. This reluctance derives from a number of factors  including the risks associated with the technology (e.g. consumer acceptance,  EHS, ethical and social risks); regulatory uncertainty; the lack of maturity of  the technology; market uncertainty; the low number of successful demonstrators  of the benefits of using nanotechnology (in the form of green nanotechnology  products already on the market); and a strong competition with traditional  technologies and production techniques.
For nanotechnology to address major environmental and societal  challenges, products using nanotechnology need to be manufactured and used in  large volumes. Funding is needed to support prototyping and pilot manufacturing,  as this is a point at which costs and risk are at their highest, discouraging  corporations and institutional investors from funding these activities. Policies  are increasingly being developed which are directed at funding proof of concept,  pilot and demonstration projects.
In addition, efforts are being made to strengthen the links  between public and private entities. Industrial consortia are being developed  with the support of, and sometimes initiated by, public bodies, for example, the  NanoBusiness Alliance in the United States and the Nanotechnology Industries  Association in Europe. At the research, development and early commercialization  stages, more innovative approaches to sharing risk and knowledge are also being  developed based on large consortia comprising companies, public laboratories and  institutions (e.g. Genesis, InnoCNT, NanoNextNL). Such consortia allow for risk sharing between public and private entities, but also risk sharing among  companies themselves. Consortia may also help to manage the uncertainty of  bringing a product to market when no similar technologies have previously been  commercialised or when the demand for the technology/application is not yet  clear.
There is also a general trend to reinforce the links between  public entities themselves. Within the OECD and emerging economies,  co-ordination between different ministries, agencies and departments to support  nanotechnology and nanotechnology for green applications was commonly seen in  WPN projects.
There may also be a role for demand-side policies supporting the  development and commercialisation of nanotechnology for global challenges,  including the use of green nanotechnology. Scenarios are often seen in  nanotechnology product development in which producers are reluctant to invest in  options for which customers and users are not yet articulating a clear demand or  where no clear products options are identified as yet. This uncertainty about  market perspectives and customer/user demand and requirements is being addressed  through new alliances and consortia, as mentioned above, but there may also be a  need for interventions to further reduce the uncertainty, including demand-side  policies.
The potential impact of nanotechnology on green  innovation
Increasingly, as the technology is being developed, efforts are  being made to try to find ways of assessing or tracking the impact of  nanotechnology on specific policy objectives such as green growth. This is a  very challenging task due to the sheer number of applications of nanotechnology  across all economic sectors and its broad enabling nature, as well as the  potential for it to impact across value chains and to create a complex setting  for any robust impact analysis. The potential risks of new green nanotechnologies might need to be compared with those of current technologies  (which may, for example, also be energy intensive and present various risks) and  against the human and environmental costs of not effectively addressing key  global challenges (such as reducing carbon emissions or providing potable water). The policy landscape in which nanotechnology operates is complex,  evolving and responsive to economic and social challenges. A wide range of  potential economic, environmental and societal implications of the technology  needs to be included in methodologies for assessing the impact of green innovation through nanotechnology.
Source: OECD

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