�Nano’ in its many meanings (see my column “From Nanotech to Nanoscale Technology and Sciences”) is being positioned as the source of numerous solutions for the expected acceleration of climate change given today’s consumerism and societal behaviour.
The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology �(CRN) believes molecular manufacturing will be not only “one of the few things that has the potential to control climate change” but that it will also be essential, when they state, “With molecular manufacturing, we can. Without it, probably not”. They believe the money available for reducing CO2 emissions will be best spent in advancing molecular manufacturing.
Others envision that science and technology in general, and nanoscale science and technology in particular, can play a role independent of the contribution of molecular manufacturing. A report prepared for Industry Canada stated “several �high-tech’ platforms were recognized as a primary area of opportunity to address climate change and foster ongoing technological innovation.”
For nanotechnology they write, “Areas of nanotechnology with GHG [greenhouse gas] reduction potential include applications in manufacturing of nanomaterials requiring fewer raw input resources, alternative and conventional energy generation, energy efficiency, computing, information and communication technology, and biotechnology and genomics.”
An American report states,”Nanotechnologies have the potential to significantly impact the generation and remediation of environmental problems through understanding and control of emissions from a wide range of sources, development of new �green’ technologies that minimize production of undesirable by-products, and remediation of existing waste sites and polluted water sources.”
Other reports covering nano solutions for climate include:
- Cientifica’s reports “Nanotech: Cleantech - Quantifying the Effect of Nanotechnologies on CO2 Emissions,” and “Nanotechnologies for Sustainable Energy: Reducing Carbon Emissions Through Clean Technologies and Renewable Energy Sources”
- the European Nanoforum Reports “Nano & the Environment,” “Workshop on Nanotechnologies for Environmental Remediation,”� and the Global Trends in Sustainable Energy Investment 2007� report by UNEP’s Sustainable Energy Finance Initiative (SEFI).
Nanowerk summarizes the study “Environmentally Beneficial Nanotechnologies: Barriers and Opportunities”, which was commissioned by the nanotechnology group of the UK’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and which covers five nanotechnology applications: fuel additives, solar cells, the hydrogen economy, batteries and insulation.
Nano is involved in numerous renewable energy areas such as nanoscale devices for higher efficiency solar energy and photonics applications.
Nanowerk wrote about nanotechnology and its linkage to hydrogen cars.
Researchers have developed an inexpensive solar cell which uses carbon nanotubes that can be painted or printed on flexible plastic sheets. The paper is called “Fullerene single wall carbon nanotube complex for polymer bulk heterojunction photovoltaic cells,” published in Journals of Materials Chemistry .
Numerous speakers were scheduled to speak on nanotechnology as the environmental technology for the future at Europe’s 2007 Greenweek. The Woodrow Wilson Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies has started a consultation process towards the goal of launching the Green Nano Award. Indeed, they believe green nanotechnology should be a national priority.
They write in a Green Award scoping paper: “Nanoscale science and engineering will change the way in which we make just about everything, from materials to chemicals, and will have long-lasting impacts on almost every sector of our economy. Such fundamental changes in our industrial infrastructure are rare, occurring only every 20 to 30 years. Given the nature of this transformation, we have an unprecedented opportunity to �green’ this emerging production infrastructure in order to minimize emissions, reduce waste, and cut energy requirements. This opportunity, however, 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 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 30 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. We must act aggressively now to ensure the emergence of nano-based processes and products with reduced environmental impacts.”
The accompanying paper “Green Technology — It’s Easier than You Think” covers green nanoelectronics, green synthesis of nanomaterials, green nano-manufacturing, nano-enhanced green technologies,� nano-enhanced energy technologies, nano-enhanced clean-up Technologies and nano-enhanced green industry technologies.
Other areas of NBICS are of course also employed in the science and technology solutions to climate change. Other areas of interest covered in a Canadian report are biotechnology and bioproduct, information and communication technology, intelligent systems and advanced materials.The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a report “Bioengineering for Pollution Prevention Through Development of Biobased Materials and Energy.” As might be expected, players in synthetic biology (the newest science and technology field) are also offering climate change fixes.
The Choice is Yours
A recent report released by a blue-ribbon panel of retired admirals and generals from the US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines states that “global climate change presents a serious national security threat which could impact Americans at home, impact US military operations, and heighten global tensions. An Associated Press story comments:�”The report says that in the next 30 to 40 years there will be wars over water, increased hunger instability from worsening disease and rising sea levels and global warming-induced refugees.”
Can science and technology alone be the solution to the �climate problem’ or are social solutions and changes in social behaviour needed?� We also need to ask whether the science and technology promoted as the solution to the �climate problem’ might have its own inherent problems.
Reproduced with permission from Innovation Watch:
Gregor Wolbring is a biochemist, bioethicist, disability/vari-ability/ability studies scholar, and health policy and science and technology governance researcher at the University of Calgary. He is a member of the Center for Nanotechnology and Society at Arizona State University; Part Time Professor at Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, Canada; Member CAC/ISO - Canadian Advisory Committees for the International Organization for Standardization section TC229 Nanotechnologies; Member of the editorial team for the Nanotechnology for Development portal of the Development Gateway Foundation; Chair of the Bioethics Taskforce of Disabled People’s International; and former Member of the Executive of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO (2003-2007 maximum terms served). He publishes the Bioethics, Culture and Disability website, moderates a weblog for the International Network for Social Research on Disability, and authors a weblog on NBICS and its social implications.
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� Gregor Wolbring, All Rights Reserved, 2007. Please contact the author for permission to reprint.