Figure 2. Swiss organization is developing prevalidated laboratory methods for understanding the hazards of nanoparticles. Source: EMPA. A BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT PLATFORM
, Brussels, Belgium, nanotechnologies make up one of four new-business-development platforms that together account for more than 20% of the company’s annual R&D budget. The three primary areas of focus are: electronics and information technology, manufacturing and materials, and healthcare and life sciences.Solvay can point to its Zeosil range of highly dispersible silica as one notable nano-related success. Its primary use is in tires, where its ability to reduce rolling resistance decreases fuel consumption by 5–7%. The line, which also is used in various industrial applications, plus personal care and nutrition products, generated net sales of €416 million ($518 million) last year.The company now has launched a new generation known as Zeosil Premium, which can further improve tire efficiency and performance. Solvay also is active in the field of OLEDs. It particularly is interested in using them to deliver high-quality diffuse light from thin and flexible tiles that one day could be integrated into ceilings, walls, windows and other locations.It is working in collaboration with the Holst Centre, an independent R&D organization based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, to develop large area OLEDs. One breakthrough has been the ability to deposit OLED layers by solution processing rather than conventional vacuum deposition — a move that brings the use of printing technologies to manufacture OLEDs a step closer.The two now are developing a second generation of demonstrators, which they hope will lead to low-cost solution-processed OLED lighting tiles on flexible plastic foils.SAETY IS NO SMALL MATTER
Nanotechnology was the theme of BASF’s annual research conference in May. One of the speakers was Robert Landsiedel, Ludwigshafen-based head of short-term toxicology. His talk “Safety Research for a Responsible Use of Nanomaterials” focused on the questions posed by nanoparticles, e.g.: Does larger surface area lead to higher reactivity? Does their small size enable nanoparticles to defeat barriers, for example the skin? What is the best way to deal with the genuinely unique properties observed in some nanoparticles?Landsiedel pointed out that BASF began its first research project into the safety of nanoparticles in 2004 and since then has conducted more than 150 studies on nanomaterial toxicity. The company has been involved with more than 25 research projects with organizations as diverse as the European Commission’s Joint Research Center, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Bayer MaterialScience and the Italian National Agency for New Technology, he noted.Testing methods cited in current guidelines from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development generally are suitable for nanomaterials, Landsiedel concluded. However, safety assessments should consider the lifecycle of the material (use, release) as well as the biological pathway (uptake, biopersistence and biological effect), and that the long-term effects still need further investigation, he cautioned.This last point is highlighted in a recent article by toxicologist Harald F. Krug, a professor at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA), Zurich, in Angewandte Chemie International Edition.
It casts doubts on the findings of thousands of studies on the risks associated with nanoparticles. His article is based on a re-evaluation of these studies, many of which he found to be poorly executed and practically useless for risk assessments.In an effort to overcome these issues, EMPA is collaborating with groups such as the Powder Technology Laboratory of the Institute of Materials at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, the European Commission’s Joint Research Center, the Korean Institute of Standards and Science, and industrial partners in a new NanoScreen program. It is expected to yield a set of prevalidated methods for laboratory experiments over the next few years (Figure 2). “Thanks to these methods and test substances, international labs will be able to compare, verify and, if need be, improve their experiments,” notes Peter Wick, head of EMPA’s laboratory for materials-biology interactions.