Standardising nanotechnologies

Materials World magazine
1 May 2009
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The views of industry, researchers and the wider materials community are being sought to develop effective standards for nanotechnologies.

The UK has established itself at the forefront of this activity, which is vital to support
commercialisation and market development as well as ensure consumer acceptance.

Nanotechnologies are technically challenging, being dependent on the measurement, manipulation and control of matter at a scale substantially below anything mankind has previously achieved. They are strategically important, providing both evolutionary and revolutionary displacement of existing products, processes and materials. They are expected to be integral to products worth between US$500-3,000bln per annum by 2015, according to The Economic Development of Nanotechnology – An Indicators Based Analysis by Dr Angela Hullman for the European Commission.

Global trade means that nanotechnologies will extend across national boundaries and have a global impact, and there is increasing concern about the potential negative health and environmental impacts. All of this means that early standardisation will be important.

Setting the pace

In June 2004, the UK became the first country to set up a national committee for nanotechnology standardisation. It has members from approximately 30 organisations, providing a broad representation from stakeholder groups, including trade and industry associations, professional institutions, academia, industry and Government departments/agencies. Both the Materials and Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Networks (KTNs) support the committee’s activities, liaising with their member organisations.

In the field of documentation, the UK has produced the first internationally reviewed standard, covering nanoparticle terminology, and has published similar documents for another six sectors of nanotechnologies, together with guides in safe handling and disposal, labelling, and specifying nanomaterials. Guides to exposure assessment, regulations and standards for nanotechnology-based businesses are also in the offing.

Quality counts

The UK is also active on the international stage, holding the chair and secretariat of both the ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) and CEN (European Committee for Standardisation) technical committees ISO/TC 229 and CEN/TC 352.

In the ISO committee, two standards have been published covering health and safety practices in occupational settings, and terminology and definitions for nanoobjects. An active work programme of around 35 projects is underway in four areas – terminology and nomenclature; measurement
and characterisation; environmental health and safety; and materials specification. The UK is
leading six of these projects.

The CEN/TC 352 is, meanwhile, developing its own work programme with an emphasis on adding value to the outputs of European R&D projects funded under the Framework programmes. Three activities are led by the UK in measurement and health and safety.

Dr Robert Quarshie, Director of the Materials KTN, says, ‘This effort must be seen in the context of a wider programme of international work being undertaken on nanomaterials, such as that on 14 priority areas through an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development programme. Excitingly, the UK’s lead on standards means that we can drive the agenda for industrial innovation through common public/private objectives for this fast developing technology’.

The aim is to extend the membership of the UK’s national committee to ensure broad representation from all stakeholder groups.

Further information: Peter Hatto, Stuart MacLachlan