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Nanomaterials February 2017 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Marianne Monteforte

New Nanomaterial-Reporting Rule

Why is this topic significant?

The US Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Substances Control Act's new rule, effective May 2017, requires companies to report detailed information about the nanomaterials they handle. This new reporting rule will affect companies in the US market that manufacture, process, import, or distribute nanomaterial substances.

Description

The US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) regulates nanomaterials in chemical substances or pesticides. In January 2017, the EPA implemented a new rule in section 8(a) of the TSCA—effective 12 May 2017—that will require manufacturers, processors, distributors, and importers of existing or new nanomaterials in the US market to report information about their nanomaterials to the EPA. The companies will need to provide a report that details the following data about the nanomaterials: chemical identity, production volume, manufacturing and processing methods, exposure and release information, and workplace and environmental hazards.

The new rule will apply to manufactured or processed nanoparticles—with a diameter less than or equal to 100 nanometers—that are solid at 25°C (under atmospheric pressure) and include aggregates and agglomerates. The rule does not apply to nanomaterials of 1% by weight volume. The EPA estimates a total of 164 hours to prepare a report.

Implications

The EPA has been attempting to issue these changes to TSCA since 2009, but the process has been slow as a result of strong opposition from industry and the federal government. The US authorities aim to use the information that they gather to build a database of the nanomaterials in commerce and determine what, if any, specific control measures for nanomaterials are necessary. In April 2015, the Canadian government proposed the introduction of similar procedures to control the use of nanomaterials in Canada. These developments give a clear indication that the countries are catching up with the European Union—which tends to impose stricter regulation of nanomaterials.

This stricter legislation will also provide clarity for industry stakeholders on an intensely debated issue but will add time and cost to the active companies. According to the EPA, this reporting rule will require the companies to submit comprehensive reports 135 days before use or 30 days before use if the company is in plant-start-up phase. In addition, the EPA estimates this rule will cost companies a total of $27.79 million in the first year and $3.09 million in subsequent years.

Impacts/Disruptions

Regulatory authorities are increasingly defining their stance on nanomaterials regulation as the number of nanomaterials products reaching commercialization grows. The preparation of comprehensive materials databases is a vital step on the road to effective legislation governing the use of nanomaterials, but it can raise barriers to commercialization of potentially significantly beneficial nanomaterials. For example, making it more difficult for companies to manufacture, import, and distribute nanomaterials could curb the development of products. Conversely, the imposition of regulations can also drive innovation and lead to commercial opportunities, impelling researchers to find novel materials that do not violate health and safety statutes. As a result, regulations governing the use of nanomaterials will continue to be an important area to monitor for players in the nanotechnology industry.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium to High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Food, consumer products, electronics, health care, nanotechnology

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Graphene Electromechanical Sensors Not Silly

Why is this topic significant?

Graphene's electrochemical sensitivity offers many unique advantages that are exploitable for sensor development. Recent research reveals a graphene polysilicone composite that is capable of measuring human respiration, pulse, and blood pressure and could find use in highly sensitive medical-sensing applications.

Description

In December 2016, a team of scientists from the Advanced Materials and Bioengineering Research Centre—funded by the Science Foundation Trinity College Dublin—revealed that mixing polysilicone ("Silly Putty") with graphene creates an electromechanical sensor—G-Putty—that has the potential for use in highly sensitive medical-sensing applications. The researchers conducted sensitivity tests of the G-Putty by monitoring its electrical resistance, and their results revealed that the G-Putty has a high gauge factor of over 500—a factor of 10 greater than the gauge factor of typical medical sensors. Indeed, this high sensitivity of the electromechanical sensor means that when the G-putty presses against a carotid artery, it is capable of measuring human respiration, pulse, and blood pressure.

Showing that the sensor can detect the footsteps of a spider, researchers proved that the sensor can also behave as a highly sensitive impact sensor. According to Jonathon Coleman, head of the research group at Trinity College Dublin, the G-putty exhibits unique sensing capabilities: "If you touch it even with the slightest pressure or deformation, the electrical resistance will change significantly.... Even if you stretch or compress the Silly Putty by one percent of its normal size, the electrical resistance will change by a factor of five."

Implications

Graphene has received much attention for its potential to enhance the electrical, mechanical, and barrier properties of rigid polymers. Yet the addition of graphene to viscoelastic polymers reveals an electromechanical behavior, whose capabilities largely remain unexplored. The significance of G-putty as a graphene-composite sensor is in its high sensitivity and ability to measure blood pressure in real time.

The supply of raw materials for the G-putty is readily available, because both graphene nanoplatelets and Silly Putty are already commercially available. Although G-putty is in early-stage research, it has the potential to open up new opportunities for companies to develop the technology for use in highly sensitive medical sensing and diagnostic devices, wearables, and stretchable electronics. But first the researchers must prove the safety, reliability, and durability of their new G-putty material. In addition, for use as a sensor in medical applications, the G-putty will have to pass a series of tests.

Impacts/Disruptions

Demand for flexible and soft electronics-sensing devices is increasing—in particular, for skin-mountable wearable strain sensors for application in medical sensors, personal-health monitoring, human–machine interfaces, and soft robotics. New strain-sensing mechanisms such as those that the G-putty demonstrates could open up a new market for highly sensitive physiological monitoring. Market demand for graphene is already high, and as new applications for graphene emerge, the demand for scalable manufacturing processes will only grow.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium to High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Medical devices, sensors, wearables

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: