Nanotechnology Project

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Environment, Health and Safety Research

A Life Cycle Analysis Approach for Evaluating Future Nanotechnology Applications

Project Information

Principal InvestigatorLester Lave
InstitutionCarnegie Mellon University
Project URLView
Relevance to ImplicationsHigh
Class of NanomaterialEngineered Nanomaterials
Impact SectorEnvironment
Broad Research Categories Risk Management
NNI identifier

Funding Information

Anticipated Total Funding$100,000.00
Annual Funding$50,000.00
Funding SourceEPA
Funding MechanismExtramural
Funding SectorGovernment
Start Year2003
Anticipated End Year2005


Objective: Nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionize technology to improve the health and well being of all people while improving environmental quality and sustainability. By reducing the amount of energy and materials required to accomplish a desired task, nanotechnology can provide the goods and services we desire “smarter, cheaper, faster” and with a smaller environmental footprint. Academics, business leaders, and government officials have predicted innovative technological changes from nanotechnology that range from incremental improvements to the establishment of new technologies and markets. Our hypothesis is that a technological push towards greater investment in nanotechnology without a commensurate consideration of the net environmental and social benefits will inevitably lead to scenarios where the nanotechnology substitute is worse than the product or process replaced. We are developing methods for examining the economic and environmental implications of specific nanotechnology products, processes, and markets. Approach: We employ both conventional and economic input-output life cycle analysis (EIO-LCA) methods to predict the life cycle implications of particular nanotechnology applications for environmental quality, resource use, and the economy more generally. Using an application-oriented focus, we apply these methods to industrial applications to compare the total (direct and indirect) economic and environmental implications of a conventional product or process with its nanotechnology substitute. We then assess whether potential substitutions of nanotechnology for existing products and processes can be cost-effective and improve environmental quality and explore the economics and societal changes necessary for wide scale commercialization of a particular technology. The result of each analysis will be a life cycle picture of the environmental discharges, energy, and raw materials required for a current product and its nanotechnology substitute, including commercial, environmental, and sustainability implications. Expected Results: This project will produce methods for considering commercial and societal implications of potential nanotechnology applications early in the R&D process. These methods that can be used by policy makers and industry during early research and development stages to estimate the potential lifecycle economic and environmental implications of new and future nanotechnology-based products. The work will aid society in deciding how much resources to put into developing nanotechnology, where to focus the investments, and how to craft policies that reap of the benefits of this technology while protecting human health and the environment. Our findings will enable policy-makers to make informed judgments concerning government funding for R&D and explore policy scenarios for enlisting private R&D to meet national objectives. Finally, examination of the social benefits and costs of a nanotechnology will enable legislators and regulators to understand the regulatory needs to gain the greatest economic and social benefit from a specific nanotechnology application.