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Pollution prevention strategies deliver drastic actions that apply mainly to the waste management phase. In addition, recycling, recovery and removal of pollutants do not resolve the problem of hard-to-process toxic substances. A group of Yale researchers has found a way to assess the environmental and health impacts of materials before their commercial production.
To Avoid Withdrawing Marketed Products
Nanomaterials are being increasingly used in civil and military applications. But like other classes of materials during the design stage, researchers focus primarily on cost, and technical and functional performances. Products often end up being taken off the market when they are found to be harmful to humans and nature.
The team led by Julie Zimmerman, professor of chemical engineering and forestry and environmental studies, offers a tool that provides researchers with information on long-term environmental and health impacts of nanomaterials. Going through this step allows industries to avoid the withdrawal of marketed products deemed harmful.
How the Tool Works
This database compares and selects environmentally friendly and sustainable materials. It is a matrix that classifies nanomaterials and evaluates each one according to properties such as size, shape, performance, toxicity, energy consumption, and antimicrobial activity. This information allows researchers to choose the best components and predict possible effects of a material even before it is designed.
The tool is based on Ashby’s material selection strategy. Created by Michael Farries Ashby, a metallurgical engineer and professor at the University of Cambridge, the method is based on a scatter chart. In collaboration with David Cebon, Ashby designed the CMS (Cambridge Materials Selector) software based on a material selection strategy. From graphs, the chart displays two or more properties of many materials or classes of materials making it possible to choose, for example, the most rigid material or a low-density one, and connect them to obtain other characteristics.
An example of the Ashby Materials Selection Strategy application
The team tested the tool in two case studies, the design and selection of antimicrobial substances and nanomaterial-based conductive polymers. The materials were studied based on two parameters, namely efficiency (production costs are part of this criterion) and environmental impacts, by following a two-step comparative approach:
- In step I, the tool makes a first selection from the major chemical classes;
- In step II, it chooses from the first selection a physico-chemical class that meets the pre-established constraints.
The database is also designed to allow researchers to enter new data in order to optimize the scatter chart operation. Indeed, the team sees the project as a call to environmental and materials researchers to build a database that will contribute to sustainable design processes.
The study entitled “A framework for sustainable nanomaterial selection and design based on performance, hazard, and economic considerations” was published in Nature Nanotechnology on April 30, 2018. It was co-authored by Mark M. Falinski, Desiree L. Plata, Shauhrat S. Chopra, Thomas L. Theis, Leanne M. Gilbertson and Julie B. Zimmerman.