OECD Conference on fostering safe, innovation-led growth in nanotechnology

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Courtesy of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

There is little doubt that nanotechnology is delivering on its promise to revolutionize many sectors of the global economy. As nanoenabled products populate the commercial landscape at an accelerated pace, there is growing interest in developing tools that can be used to assess more precisely the benefits to the environment of nanotechnology and/or nanoenabled products. Largely in response to this growing interest, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) convened on July 15-17, 2009, a fascinating three- day conference in Paris, France, titled OECD Conference on Potential Environmental Benefits of Nanotechnology: Fostering Safe Innovation-Led Growth. The conference was intended to jump start a more structured dialogue aimed at identifying and quantifying the environmental benefits of nanotechnology while fostering the safe, innovation-led growth of nanotechnology. The conference attracted over 200 attendees from all over the world. The Conference Steering Committee elected to use the term “life-cycle perspectives” to characterize the need to consider both the benefits and impacts throughout the life cycle of the nanomaterial or nanotechnology application.

Key among the conference’s objectives were identifying the range of environmental challenges that could benefit from nanotechnology, the possible environmental benefits from applying these technologies, and challenges for developing, commercializing, and applying nanotechnology for environmental benefit. The conference also sought to review key, state-of-the-art technologies that have the potential to provide environmental benefits, to consider the environmental, health, and safety implications related to the use of nanotechnology for beneficial environmental purposes, and to discuss policy measures for addressing challenges in the application of nanotechnology for environmental benefit and their relevance in the context of future OECD work programs.

Structurally, the conference consisted of a keynote presentation; two plenary sessions that introduced the conference, framed the desired outputs from the conference, and offered various perspectives on nanotechnologies; eight parallel sessions that focused on specific technological case studies through workshops; and a plenary wrap-up session.

Each of the eight parallel sessions, or “workshops” as they were called, lasted three-and-one-half hours and included five or six presentations by different speakers. Each workshop focused on specific case studies involving various applications of nanotechnology. The workshops included sessions on: water treatment and purification; environmental sensing; clean car technology; cellulose nanofibers; site remediation; better batteries enabled by nanoscale innovation; agricultural nanotechnology; and greener nanoproducts.

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