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Sci Total Environ. 2012 May 15;425:271-82. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2012.03.001. Epub 2012 Apr 6.

Life cycle assessment of engineered nanomaterials: state of the art and strategies to overcome existing gaps.

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1
Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa), Technology & Society Lab (TSL), Lerchenfeldstrasse 5, CH-9014 ST. GALLEN, Switzerland. Roland.Hischier@empa.ch

Abstract

The use of engineered nanomaterials offers advantages as well as disadvantages from a sustainability perspective. It is important to identify such points as early as possible in order to be able to build on existing strengths, while counteracting disadvantages. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a suitable method to assess the environmental performance of a product or process. But so far studies applying LCA to the area of nanotechnology have been scarce. One reason might be that the LCA framework has a whole list of issues that need further precision in order to be applicable to nanotechnologies: system boundaries and a functional unit have to be chosen in a way that allows one to do a comparison of equal functionalities; adequate and comprehensive life cycle inventory data for engineered nanomaterials are the key on the level of inventory analysis; and the impact assessment step requires a clear definition of the degree of detail on the level of nanoparticle emissions. The LCA studies existing thus far in the area of nanotechnology have barely begun to cover all these aspects. Thus, in order to improve the current situation, the authors propose to go ahead in each of the LCA stages as far as scientific advances allow. For the inventory modelling this means e.g. that comprehensive, transparently documented and quality ensured data of the most important engineered nanomaterials should be collected and made available in a widely-accepted format. Concerning nanoparticle emissions, as many parameters as possible have to be collected pertaining to the production, use, and the disposal phase of these engineered nanomaterials. Furthermore, on the level of impact assessment, relevant physical characteristics have to be identified for a toxicity assessment of nanoparticles and a consensus has to be found for a limited but sufficient number of independent parameters influencing toxicity to be collected.

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