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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies > How About an X Prize for Green Nanotechnology? Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies Seeks Partners

David Rejeski
Director
Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies

Abstract:
More and more chemists, engineers, researchers, and developers are engaging in the area of "green nanotechnology". Unfortunately, the "greening" of nanotechnology has received very little attention from policymakers, and it receives only a small fraction of the total nanotechnology research and development investment. "Green nano" should become the rallying cry for the socially responsible investment (SRI) community and a logical target for the growing number of investors in "clean tech." One way to capitalize on the promise of green nano and catalyze this advancement is through a prize that recognizes achievements and stimulates innovation in green nanotechnology. We hope that others will join us in this important endeavor as we begin the stakeholder process to develop, launch, and sustain a green nano award.

November 14th, 2007

How About an X Prize for Green Nanotechnology? Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies Seeks Partners

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a scene of industrial production and growth. What comes to mind? A smog-clouded factory? A fast-paced assembly line?

Now, envision industrial growth that is clean, produces little waste, low emissions, and creates products that will help clean up polluted waterways or bring more efficient renewable energy to homes. This latter vision has the potential to become a reality, and the growing field of nanotechnology—which many have termed the "next Industrial Revolution"—could help make that happen. But how?

More and more chemists, engineers, researchers, and developers are engaging in the area of "green nanotechnology" (1). Green nanotechnology involves an approach to risk mitigation encompassing three complementary goals: (a) advancing the development of clean technologies that use nanotechnology, (b) minimizing potential environmental and human health risks associated with the manufacture and use of nanotechnology products, and (c) encouraging replacement of existing products with new nanoproducts that are more environmentally friendly throughout their life cycles. These approaches not only offer environmental benefits (e.g., reducing fuel use and emissions and cleaning up pollution), but also will help give us greater security (e.g., offering more self-reliability) and help address public health crises (e.g., alleviating disease and poverty and helping to equalize access to clean water), among other gains.

Unfortunately, the "greening" of nanotechnology has received very little attention from policymakers, and it receives only a small fraction of the total nanotechnology research and development investment. Government and industry are already heading down the well-trodden path of trying to manage risks after the fact, rather than reducing or eliminating these risks altogether (2). It seems as if we have not learned much from the last forty years of environmental clean-ups, poor risk management, and battles around end-of-pipe controls. Principles of green chemistry and green engineering need to be integrated further into nanotechnology manufacturing processes by focusing more attention on green nano within educational curricula, policy efforts, and investment decisions. "Green nano" should become the rallying cry for the socially responsible investment (SRI) community and a logical target for the growing number of investors in "clean tech."

One way to capitalize on the promise of green nano and catalyze this advancement is through a prize that recognizes achievements and stimulates innovation in green nanotechnology. A green nano prize could promote innovation and encourage further developments in processes that are cleaner, more efficient, and produce less waste and in nano-based products or applications with reduced impacts on the environment.

A prize could elevate green nano's visibility in a number of ways and, in turn, stimulate further innovation. For instance, recognizing innovative approaches to reducing or eliminating risks and rewarding scientists and engineers working in this emerging area may attract more scientists to the field and help retain them. Offering a financial award could help researchers and developers commercialize their green nano innovations and make green nano a visible national and international priority. An award program could also increase knowledge on efforts in green nano by consolidating and in a sense, inventorying activities included in nominations.

To start a dialogue on how to develop and launch an award in green nanotechnology, our Project commissioned a paper entitled "Green Nanotechnology: Why We Need a Green Nano Award & How to Make it Happen" written by Paul Anastas and Julie Zimmerman of the Yale Center for Green Chemistry & Engineering (3). We released this paper in June 2007 at the 11th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in Washington, DC. This paper serves as a discussion piece exploring possible pathways to developing and launching a green nano award program. It reviews key issues that will need consideration, including:

• Deciding on award criteria (what to reward);
• Determining auspices (domestic vs. international; arranged by government, a non-profit organization, a scientific body, or the private sector);
• Defining award type (open-ended vs. prescriptive);
• Deciding on award categories and frequency;
• Defining the nomination and judging process; and
• Identifying funding.

We hope that others will join us in this important endeavor as we begin the stakeholder process to develop, launch, and sustain a green nano award. We have an unprecedented opportunity to "green" the emerging nanotechnology production infrastructure; however, this opportunity will not last long. As production systems for nanotechnologies are ramped up, flexibility will be reduced because of large capital investment in facilities, intellectual property arrangements, and supply-chain relationships. Key production choices that industry makes today and over the next 5 to 10 years will become effectively "locked-in" and may be difficult to modify with either policies or economic incentives. In thirty years, our legacy to the planet could be either business as usual—with increased and new risks to humans and the environment—or a new set of industries with a radically smaller environmental footprint.

The choice is ours. Rewarding achievements in green nano could bring us closer to the industrial vision of clear skies, safe workplaces, and solutions for our environment. Our Project is ready to make an investment to launch a Green Nano Award and we are looking for partners.

If you would like to share your ideas for a green nano award program and get involved in this effort, please contact us at: .

Endnotes

(1) Karen Schmidt (2007). Green Nanotechnology: It's Easier Than You Think. PEN 08. Washington, DC: Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Available at: http://www.nanotechproject.org/file_download/187 (accessed November 13, 2007).

(2) An exception to the business-as-usual approach can be found in California. Recently, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) announced its intention to explore environmentally safe processes in nanotechnology as part their state-wide Green Chemistry Initiative, stating the need to "…transition away from managing toxic chemicals at the end of the lifecycle, to reducing their use altogether."
See: http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/TechnologyDevelopment/Nanotechnology (accessed November 13, 2007).

(3) Paul Anastas and Julie Zimmerman (2007). "Green Nanotechnology: Why We Need a Green Nano Award & How to Make it Happen." Washington, DC: Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Available at: http://www.nanotechproject.org/file_download/206 (accessed November 13, 2007).

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