The following articles are from a Friends of Earth (Australia) Briefing Sheet:Published by MAC on 2006-05-11
The following articles are from a Friends of Earth (Australia) Briefing Sheet:
A) Introduction to nanotechnology and nanotechnology development in Australia
The overwhelming majority of the general public - and much of government - remains unaware of what the term "nanotechnology" means. However research, development and industrial use of "nanotechnology" has been growing rapidly for the past decade and is already worth several billion dollars annually. Hundreds of products containing nanomaterials are being manufactured and sold commercially.
Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter at the atomic or molecular level. The term nanotechnology refers to engineered structures, materials and systems that operate at a scale of 100 nanometres or less (1). One nanometre is one billionth of a metre; a human hair is about 80, 000 nm wide.
In the past, nano-sized particles have been produced incidentally as a by-product of fires, high-temperature industrial processes such as engine combustion and high energy welding or grinding.
However now scientists have developed ways of manufacturing synthetic nanoparticles for use in a wide variety of products, from more reactive industrial catalysts, transparent sunscreens and cosmetics, self-cleaning toilets, long-lasting paints, targeted drug delivery, 'smart' surveillance equipment, 'smart' fertilisers, 'smart' packaging, to 'nutritionally enhanced' foods.
Investment in the industry is forecast to grow to US$1 trillion by 2011-2015 (2). The US National Science Foundation estimates that in 2015 there will be 2 million workers employed in nanotechnology-related industries world wide; the number of people in secondary industries using nanotechnology-related materials and devices will be orders of magnitude greater.
There are now over 50 Australian companies focussed on nanotechnology. Australian nanotech research spans materials, biotechnology, energy, environment, electronics, photonics, computing and surveillance.
The Australian Research Council currently funds more than 200 nanotechnology research projects (3). Australian universities, CSIRO, the Australian Nuclear Science Technology Organisation and the Defence Science Technology Organisation are also active in nanotechnology research and development.
Multinational companies involved in Australian nanotechnology include Rio Tinto, AstraZeneca, BHP Billiton, Dow Chemical, DuPont, L'Oréal, Motorola, Orica, Revlon, and the US Government's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Australian nano products already on the market include: transparent sunscreens and cosmetics; colour-fast fabrics; self-cleaning windows; long-lasting paints and furniture varnishes; fuel catalysts; and automotive and aerospace components (4).
These products have been commercialised without a regulatory regime. The safety of nano-scale ingredients is not tested and products containing nanoparticles are not labelled.
1 The Royal Society and The Royal Academy of Engineering, UK. 2004. Nanoscience and nanotechnologies. Available at http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/
2 Bainbridge, William S. and Mihail C. Roco. 2001. "Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology." NSET
Workshop report for the NSF. www.wtec.org/loyola/nano/NSET.Societal.Implications/
3 Commonwealth of Australia, Invest Australia. 2005. Australian Nanotechnology: Capability & Commercial Potential, 2nd Edition. Available at http://investaustralia.hyperlink.net.au
4 Commonwealth of Australia, Invest Australia. 2005. Australian Nanotechnology: Capability & Commercial Potential, 2nd Edition. Available at http://investaustralia.hyperlink.net.au