The unique properties achieved by engineering materials at the nano-scale have inspired innovative applications with the potential to positively influence society and the environment. Biological and chemical sensors, therapeutic and drug delivery, and advanced water treatment technologies are just a few examples. Yet, the benefits realized through nano-enabling products are not without impacts that manifest across the life cycle. Example upstream impacts include metal mining and refining processes and synthesis of nanomaterials while downstream examples include human and environmental exposure to nanomaterials upon release from the product. A systems-level approach is necessary to evaluate the impact and benefit tradeoffs across the life cycle.
The impact-benefit ratio (IBR) was established as a way to quantify the potential realization of net life cycle benefits of an emerging technology. Our first paper applies IBR to a carbon-nanotube enabled gas sensor.
This same approach has been applied to other emerging technologies to define the design space within which net benefits can be achieved.
Gilbertson, L. M.; Busnaina, A. A.; Isaacs, J.; Zimmerman, J. B.; Eckelman, M. J. “Life Cycle Impacts and Benefits of a Carbon Nanotube-Enabled Chemical Gas Sensor.” Environmental Science and Technology, 2014, 48 (19), 11360-11368. DOI: 10.1021/es5006576
Hicks, A.; Gilbertson, L. M.; Jamila S. Yamani; Zimmerman, J. B.; Theis, T. “Life Cycle Payback Estimates of Nano-Silver Enabled Textiles Under Different Silver Loading, Release, and Laundering Scenarios Informed by Literature Review.” Environmental Science and Technology, 2015,49 (13), 7529-7542. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b01176
Wang, Y.; Tavakoli, S.; Vidic, R.; Khanna, V.; Gilbertson, L. M. “Life Cycle Assessment of a Produced Water and Abandoned Mine Drainage Co-Treatment Process to Advance Water Quality Management in Pennsylvania” Environmental Science and Technology, 2018, 52(23), 13995-14005. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.8b03773
We applied the same approach to evaluate tradeoffs of a water treatment process that uses abandoned mine drainage (AMD) and produced water from hydraulic fracturing. The advantages of this approach are (i) offsetting freshwater use and (ii) capturing AMD, avoiding release to the environment.
A systems-level approach to design is enhanced through coordinated efforts between experimentalists and life cycle practitioners, informing empirical data acquisition that can be used to enhance life cycle models used to quantify environmental and human health burden.
In this article, we discuss the ways in which this coordination can be leveraged in the evaluation of nano-enabled applications.
Gilbertson, L. M.; Wender, B. A.; Zimmerman, J. B.; Eckelman, M. J. “Coordinating Modeling and Experimental Research of Engineered Nanomaterials to Improve Life Cycle Assessment Studies.” Environmental Science: Nano, 2015, 2, 669-682. DOI: 10.1039/C5EN00097A
The following paper outlines a methodology for quantifying release of engineered nanomaterials from products under natural weathering conditions and critically highlights the importance of this data to enhancing life cycle assessment of relevant nano-enabled products. In addition, this project is a testament to coordinated efforts between experimentalist and life cycle practitioners.
Lankone, R. S.; Challis, K.; Bi, Y.; Hanigan, D.; Reed, R. B.; Zaikova, T.; Hutchison, J. E.; Westerhoff, P.; Ranville, J.; Fairbrother, H.; Gilbertson, L. M. “Methodology for Quantifying Engineered Nanomaterial Release from Diverse Matrices in Outdoor Weathering Conditions to Inform Life Cycle Assessment.” Environmental Science: Nano, 2017, 4, 1784-1797.
Many thanks to the EPA supported LCNano Center for supporting several of our efforts in this research area.
Additional support from the USGS supported Pennsylvania Water Resources Research Center