Science, engineering and technology at the nanoscale are fields of research in which the matter is manipulated by means of atomic, molecular and supramolecular layers, in order to obtain significantly enhanced materials and systems.
For the sake of clarity, consider that 10 nanometers correspond to one thousandth of a human hair’s diameter.
NANOTECHNOLOGY, LEGAL CONSULTING
The characteristics of nanostructures, primarily in terms of electronics and magnetics features, significantly differ from those of the same material in terms of mass.
Nanostructures can be defined as a unique state of matter, particularly promising for new and extremely useful products.
For this reason, nanostructures have become a transdisciplinary research topic, from electronics to chemistry, from physics of matter to material sciences, passing through molecular biology.
The ability to integrate organic and inorganic nanostructures is a prerequisite for a new generation of advanced materials.
The fields of application of nanotechnologies are varied, from industrial materials to military technology (dual-use technology), passing through the medical, health and pharmaceutical fields.
The impact of nanotechnologies represents a turning point in the industrial scenario, from textiles to construction, from manufacturing to aerospace, from entertainment to accident prevention, there is no industry that has not been touched and transformed by nanotechnologies.
In the realm of consumer goods, there are many already marketed items that incorporate nanomaterials and nanoparticles, products with unique characteristics that range from impact and scratch resistance to ease of cleaning.
Bumpers in cars made extremely light and resistant, clothing fabrics with stain-repellent properties, sun filters made more radiation-resistant, stronger synthetic bones, the list of applications already used in everyday life is immense.
Nanomedicine has been defined by the European Science Foundation as “the science and technology of diagnosis, treatment and prevention of traumatic diseases and injuries, algology (pain mitigation), preservation and improvement of human health, through the use of molecular tools and molecular knowledge of the human body”.
The five sub-disciplines composing nanomedicine are:
- nanomaterials and equipment
- nanoimaging and analytical instruments
- novel therapeutics and drug delivery systems
- toxicology and clinical application
Nanotechnologies are placed at a level where the boundary between organic and non-organic blurs, at the convergence between biological and physical spheres.
The separation between Life Sciences and other physical sciences is therefore becoming uncertain, a truly unique and identifying characteristic of what is commonly defined as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
One of the most critical fields of application of nanotechnology is undoubtedly that related to the agri-food industry.
Agriculture provides food for man both directly and indirectly, but due to the worrying trend of world population growth and the related food security issue, it will be necessary to use modern nanotechnology and biotechnology in agricultural science.
There are many applications in all phases of production, processing, storage, packaging and transport of agricultural products: nanotechnology is revolutionizing agriculture and the food industry for novation, through precision farming techniques, plants nutrient absorption capacity enhancement, more efficient and targeted use of inputs, diseases and pest detection and control, environmental pressures resistance (water stress, salt stress, thermal stress, etc..), advanced systems of processing, storage and packaging, and much more.
The efficiency of plant protection and veterinary goods in animal farming increases significantly through the use of nanoparticles in animal science.
For example, silver and iron nanoparticles are used in the treatment and disinfection of livestock and poultry.
Environmental pollution levels can also be efficiently and effectively monitored using “intelligent” powder-based nanosensors (smartdust).
On the basis of current growth trends, the number of products and workers related to the nanotechnology segment doubles every two years, with a forecast of about $3 trillion in turnover and 6,000,000 jobs by 2020.
As already mentioned, nanotechnologies are not only used exclusively in the agri-food world and it should be stressed that -today- the environmental and human health risks to this phenomenon are still uncertain and more studies are needed.
In 2013 the European Commission finally proposed a possible revision of EU regulations to adapt them to the nanotechnology phenomenon, one of the regulations to be revised could be the legislation on chemicals, REACH.
Nanotechnologies play an equally critical role from the environmental applications perspective.
From the development of innovative manufacturing systems and replacement of existing plants and equipment, to the creation of materials and chemicals with improved performance, the goal is to allow a lower consumption of energy and materials and the reduction of environmental damage, as well as environmental remediation through nanoremediation.
Environmental applications of nanotechnologies address the development of solutions to current environmental problems, preventative measures for upcoming challenges arising from the interactions of energy and materials with the environment, including any possible risks posed by nanotechnologies themselves.
The energy segment has also undergone a major transformation following the introduction of nanotechnology.
Improving the use of traditional energy sources (e.g. structured nanomaterials used as catalysts for the production and refining processes of fossil fuels) and even more the efficiency of alternative energy sources (renewables in particular) is one of the key factors for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Nanotechnologies are the essential element in this path of change, through the application of “top-down” and “bottom-up” design in the implementation of energy conversion systems.
The production of energy actually represents a set of chemical and physical processes, aimed at allowing the conversion of initial energy (e.g. light in solar and kinetic in wind) into electricity.
We are thus referring to devices used for energy conversion (generation systems and storage systems) such as batteries, where the electricity is converted into potential energy, then accumulated through the chemical bonds which are developed in battery charging, and finally released as electrical energy when used.
In order to improve energy efficiency, the contribution of nanostructured materials is critical, enabling new properties to be offered that are beneficial in a number of processes, from the production and distribution of energy (e.g. carbon nanotubes) to the reduction of consumption, thus moving from the current system of centralised energy production (large quantities of energy in a few selected points) to localised production and management.
ICT AND NANOELECTRONICS APPLICATIONS
Another segment of primary importance of nanotechnology applications is that related to nanoelectronics, the real driving force of nanosciences, aimed at the miniaturization of devices of Information and Communication Technology.
To date, the areas of greatest application of nanoelectronics are those of sensors, memory devices and semiconductors.
Nanoelectronics is considered a “disruptive” technology, as it is extremely different and innovative compared to traditional models of transistors.
For this reason, nanoelectronics and microelectronics have been included in the European list of KETs (Key Enabling Technologies), i.e. Enabling Technologies, a critical element for economic and industrial development, employment growth and social progress towards a sustainable and green economy model.
Finally, there is another exciting branch of nanotechnology, namely nanomaterials, consisting of one, two and three dimensions.
Actually, the supply chain of nanomaterials stretches across the spectrum of every nanotechnology application, ranging from healthcare to cosmetics, electronics and aerospace.
The physical and chemical properties of nanomaterials are truly one-of-a-kind and for this very reason they require a specialized risk assessment, in order to prevent their impact on workers, consumers and the environment.
Currently, the assessment is carried out on a case-by-case basis, but since 2012, a group of experts on nanomaterials (ECHA-NMEG) has been created at EU level, working with the operational support of the institutions responsible for REACH, CLP and biocides.
While qualifying as an informal advisory group, it supports the implementation of the European Chemicals Agency‘s work plan on nanomaterials 2016-2018 and is an advisory body on technical/scientific issues related to the application of REACH, CLP and biocides regulations on nanomaterials.
We have dedicated a special section of the website to the regulatory framework of nanomaterials, which can be consulted at this link.
Contact us for further information concerning regulatory matters pertaining to Nanotechnology.