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WHY this case study and what is the challenge?

Nanotechnology is a major growth industry; if it is to reach its full economic potential in a responsible manner, product safety must be addressed and assessed.

Given the novelty of these products, it is important to collect and assess data both on “conventional” inventory flows, such as energy use, and to assess the toxic effects of the nanomaterials.

Prospective environmental assessments are crucial, because they let us:
1. quantify the opportunities in terms of environmental benefits at an early stage,
2. prevent or minimize potential exposure and adverse effects to humans and ecosystem that are specific to the technology (i.e., toxic effects of nanoparticles).

It is also essential to assess the social acceptance of nanotechnology (or at least of some of its key applications), thereby accounting for the tradeoffs between risks and benefits. Without adequate consideration of public concerns nanotechnology applications or products run the risk of becoming stigmatized in the public discourse.

The challenge of this PROSUITE case study is to develop methods for the prospective evaluation of the health and environmental as well as social impacts of nanomaterials and also their benefits before they enter into full-scale production and use.

WHAT applications does the case study include?

The applications included in this case study are:

  • Antimicrobial nanoparticles and nanostructured particles in textiles with particular focus on occupational and consumer exposure.
  • Polymer nanocomposites as new engineering materials
  • Electronic devices such as organic light emitting diods, field effect transistors and organic photovoltaics. 

All applications have a high potential production volume.

HOW will these applications be studied and assessed?

Methodological emphasis:

WHO are the partners involved in this case study?

The case study consortium gathers the following partners:

  • ETH (case study leader) is a frontrunner in the environmental life cycle assessments of nanomaterials.
  • UU is member of the EU-funded network of excellence “Nanostructures and functional polymer-based materials and nanocomposites (Nanofun-Poly)” and can build on LCA work (toxicity excluded) and LCC work conducted in the last 4 years.
  • DIALOGIK has experience in risk governance for nanotechnology and is currently involved in a project on food and cosmetics.
  • PSI has extensive experience in experimental studies and in the modeling of thermal waste treatment processes, in particular with regard to particles.
  • FFCT/UNL has a strong experience in developing interdisciplinary work, integrating environmental and socio-economic aspects.
  • FORTH is a university institute producing carbon nanotubes using to a novel, highly efficient method.
  • HeiQ is an SME producing and marketing various types of nanomaterials at commercial scale (the company has received several awards for innovative ideas and entrepreneurship).

Close contacts will be developed with the nanotechnology research community. In particular, contacts are established with EU-funded projects Nanosh, Nanodevice, Nanosafe and Saphir, dealing with the use, recycling and/or final treatment stages of nanotechnology-based products, looking at their health and environmental impacts in a life cycle based approach.


The publication is a deliverable of the PROSUITE project (April 2011). It assesses the climate footprint of the entire life cycle of nanosilver T-shirts and takes also aquatic toxicity during use and disposal phase of the nanosilver textiles into account. Moreover, the life cycle inventory contains nanosilver production and coating data for different technologies and scales.
More publications will follow.