eWaste and nanomaterials

Wheel of Nanoparticle Applications. Credit: T. Tsuzuki, (2009) “Commercial scale production of inorganic nanoparticles’, International Journal of Nanotechnology, Vol. 6, Nos. 5/6, pp. 567-578.

Possible pathways describing the fate of nanomaterials within waste incinerators. Credit: Amara L. Holder and others, Royal Society of Chemistry

EIT Digital partnering with the EIT Climate and EIT Raw Material KICs is looking at how technology can help in managing eWaste.

As I pointed out in previous posts, this is a thorny issue, involving much more than technology and economics. It is strongly tied to cultural aspects (and habits...).

Technology may help, also in creating awareness and changing the attitude of people. At the same time, as it is often the case, technology in its evolution can aggravate the problem. First of all the eWaste will be getting large in the coming years as more and more electronics is used and is percolating in every day products (including furniture, books, tarmac.... you name it).

Secondly, and this is the point in this post, electronic technology is evolving embedding nanotech. More and more "stuff" are produced with, or embedding, nanotech. Electronics products are part of this trend.

It is likely that nanotubes, now experimented in various labs, will substitute transistors and find a way into batteries, first as electrodes and then as capacitors.

In the coming years we are likely to face the problem of managing nano-eWaste and this is something we should tackle before it gets to the landfill. 

Nanoparticles are those in the 1-100nm range, a size comparable to virus size (and even smaller, viruses have sizes between 20-400nm). Hence, from a dimensional point of view they can enter in our bodies, as well as in the whole food chain, ending up in our stomach. 
The fact that a nanoparticle enters into our body is not, per sé, an issue (viruses are entering our bodies in a continuous stream, but just a tiny fraction of them are pathogens and even a smaller fraction are overcoming our defences). However, some nano particles, particularly heavy metal ones, the one often used in electronic components, can accumulate in living cells and cause poisoning. Hence the need to look at the eWaste disposal also from this point of view.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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