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WatchNanos - Nanos: between promise and reality

Nanos: between promise and reality

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Nanos: Between promises and realities

By AVICENN Team – Last Modified October 2022

What caution in the face of announcement effects and miracle solutions?

More resistant, lighter, antibacterial or anti-UV, shinier, more waterproof, etc. nanos are adorned with a thousand virtues. Rightly in some cases, but also in a more questionable way sometimes. Many are the announcement effects and the promises of "miracle solutions"1See for example:
Nanoparticles could one day help “cure the incurable”, scientists say, RMIT University , October 18, 2022
- Technical textiles: between innovation and one-upmanship, DGCCRF, June 3, 2022
- The superpowers of nanomaterials, Transition and Energies, January 28, 2020
- Nano-enhanced industrial materials: Preparing the next European industrial revolution, CORDIS, January 2019
- Nanotechnologies, dreams and promises, conference by Louis Laurent (Paris-Saclay campus project) and Jacques Arnould (CNES), January 2011
- Nanotechnology – Innovation for the world of tomorrow, European Commission, 2004

The expected or announced benefits of nano applications must therefore be considered seriously and in context. For each of them, it is a question of asking:

  • are the expected benefits, observed in the laboratory, also observable under the actual conditions of use of the products?
  • who proposes them, evaluates them and on what criteria?
  • what needs do they correspond to?
  • what is their technical feasibility, their real effectiveness?
  • what is their real cost to the business/society? (In addition to the millions of euros on the budget of the European Union for example, it would be necessary to add the assumption of responsibility for the undesirable effects, the costs of depollution if necessary, etc.).
  • what is their added value? are they useful / useless?2See for example:
    - Nanotechnology: between useful and futile…, Gérald Hayotte, CFDT, October 2012
    - The wacky world of nanotechnology consumer products, Nanowork, March 2007: “on one hand you read how billions of dollars are invested worldwide in nanotechnology research and on the other hand the only products you can buy are stain-resistant pants, better golf balls or the ultimate in comfy bedsheets”
  • who do they benefit?
  • have the alternatives been examined (other simpler/safer/economical/ecological solutions; and social innovation)?

Fortunately, the reflections and questions on these subjects, rarely expressed in the world of research & development (R&D), are beginning to be more audible. Evidenced by these words of Natacha Krins reported by the magazine The research : this lecturer at the Chemistry Laboratory of Condensed Matter in Paris (LCMCP), works on nanomaterials for energy (in batteries in particular) testifies: “We don't always have a global vision of the issues, we work on extremely specific subjects but very small compared to the scale of the problem” (climate change). For example in terms of the origin of raw materials, recycling, or even the energy management strategy to integrate into”3See Ecological transition in research: greener chemistry for a sustainable world?, Research, March 28, 2022.

Complementary to the assessment of risks associated with nanomaterials, the evaluation of the "benefits", real or supposed, of nanomaterials and the conditions for their full realization seems more than necessary. The concept of"collective utility" proposed by the PNSE 4 could be the opportunity to open this project, also linked to the notions of benefit / risk ratio.

Be wary of the figures on the nano markets

Vigilance is required before the staggering numbers4See for example:
- Nanomaterials Market, Zion Market Research, August 2021: “The global Nanomaterials accounted for USD 13.6 Billion in 2020 and are expected to reach USD 26.3 Billion by 2028, growing at a CAGR of around 8.1% between 2021 and 2028”
- Nanotechnology Market 2020, Data Bridge Market Research, August 14, 2020: "The global nanotechnology market is expected to reach $24,56 billion by 2025, with an average annual growth rate of 16,5% during the forecast period from 2018 to 2025"
published to quantify the (monetary) “value” of nanotechnology markets; provided by forecasting or market analysis firms, the most ambitious include, for example, the value of objects incorporating nanomaterials and not just the value of the nanomaterials concerned.

These numbers should be taken for what they are: "constructions" of interest groups based on calculations, projections or dreams not necessarily faithful to reality. They give a false impression of objectivity, which should not hide the mercantile interests of those who promote them and who have an interest in presenting the rise of nanotechnology as inevitable.5See for example:
Debunking the trillion dollar nanotechnology market size hype, NanoWerk, April 2007
Potential of nanotechnology: numbers, dreams and myths, Paris Tech Review, 2010

A remark, a question? This sheet produced by AVICENN is intended to be supplemented and updated. Please feel free to contribute.

The next nano appointments

“Nano and Health” dialogue committee (ANSES, Maisons-Alfort)
Dialogue Committee
  • 14th meeting of the “nano and health” dialogue committee
  • Organizer: ANSES
  • Website :
Nanomaterials, how to identify them more efficiently? (LNE, Paris)
  • Technical Day
  • Organizer: National Metrology and Testing Laboratory (LNE)
  • On the agenda: identification of nanomaterials, recent technological innovations in terms of particle size characterization, areas for progress to be considered 
  • Upcoming program
  • Website :…
NanoSafe conference 2023 (CEA, Grenoble)
  • 8th International Conference on Health Issues for a Responsible Approach to Nanomaterials
  • June 5-9, 2023
  • Organizer: Commissariat for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies (CEA)
  • Website :…  

Sheet initially created in April 2011

Notes & references

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