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Nanos: between promises and realities

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Nanos: Between promises and realities

By the AVICENN team – Last modification October 2022

How can we be cautious when faced with announcements and miracle solutions?

More resistant, lighter, antibacterial or anti-UV, brighter, more waterproof, etc. nanos are adorned with a thousand virtues. Rightly so in some cases, but also more questionably so in others. Many are the effects of announcements and promises of “miracle solutions”.1See for example:
Nanoparticles could one day help “cure the incurable”, scientists say, RMIT University , 18 October 2022
Technical textiles: between innovation and overbidding, DGCCRF, June 3, 2022
The super powers of nano-materials, Transition and Energy, January 28, 2020
Nano-enhanced industrial materials: Preparing for 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 tomorrow’s world, European Commission, 2004

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

  • Are the expected benefits, observed in the laboratory, also observable in the real 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 efficiency?
  • what is their real cost to the company? (In addition to the millions of euros from the European Union budget, for example, one would have to add the costs of dealing with adverse effects, clean-up costs if any, etc.).
  • what is their added value? are they useful / futile?2See for example:
    Nanotechnologies: between useful and futile…, Gérald Hayotte, CFDT, October 2012
    The wacky world of nanotechnology consumer products, Nanowerk, 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 benefits from them?
  • Have alternatives been considered (simpler / safer / economical / ecological alternatives; and social innovation)?

Fortunately, the thoughts and questions on these subjects, rarely expressed in the world of research and development (R&D), are beginning to be more audible. As evidenced by these words of Natacha Krins reported by the magazine La Recherche: this lecturer at the Laboratory of Condensed Matter Chemistry in Paris(LCMCP), working on nanomaterials for energy (in batteries in particular) testifies: “We don’t always have a global vision of the issues, we work on subjects that are extremely specialized but very small compared to the scale of the problem” (climate disruption). For example in terms of the origin of raw materials, recycling, or even the energy management strategy to integrate with.”3Cf. Ecological transition in research: greener chemistry for a sustainable world, La Recherche, 28 March 2022.

In addition to the assessment of the risks associated with nanomaterials, the assessment 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 work, also linked to the concepts of benefit/risk ratio.

Beware of numbers in the nanos markets

Vigilance is required in the face of glittering figures4See 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, growing at a CAGR of 16.5% during the forecast period from 2018 to 2025.”
published to quantify the (monetary) “value” of nanotechnology markets; provided by foresight or market analysis firms, the most ambitious ones include, for example, the value of objects incorporating nanomaterials and not only the value of the nanomaterials concerned.

These figures must be taken for what they are: “constructions” of interest groups based on assumptions, 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 nanotechnologies as inevitable5See for example:
Debunking the trillion dollar nanotechnology market size hype, NanoWerk, April 2007
Potential of nanotechnology: the numbers, the dream and the myth, Paris Tech Review, 2010

A comment, a question? This sheet realized by AVICENN is intended to be completed and updated. Please feel free to contribute.

The next nano meetings

NanoSafe conference 2023 (CEA, Grenoble)
  • 8th International Conference on Health Issues for a Responsible Approach to Nanomaterials
  • From June 5 to 9, 2023
  • Organizer: French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission(CEA)
  • Website:…
How the world deals with Materials on the Nanoscale – Responsible Use and Challenges (OECD-BMUV, Berlin)
  • International Conference from June 22 to 23, 2023
  • Organizers: OECD, German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection(BMUV)
  • Website: https: //…
São Paulo School of Advanced Science on Nanotechnology, Agriculture & Environment (SPSAS NanoAgri&Enviro, São Paulo)
São Paulo
  • From July 3 to 15, 2023 in São Paulo
  • Organizer: FABESP
  • Application from November 18 to February 05. Registration fees and travel expenses are covered.
  • Speakers: see the complete program here.

File initially created in April 2011

Notes & références

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