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MEMO/08/405

Brussels, 17th June 2008

Questions and Answers on Nanotechnologies (see also IP/08/947)

What are nanotechnologies?

Nanosciences and nanotechnologies are new approaches to research and development that aim to control the fundamental structure and behaviour of matter at the level of atoms and molecules. They offer the possibility of furthering our understanding of phenomena at the atomic level, and make possible the development of materials and devices with novel properties, functions and performance.

Why are nanotechnologies important for the economy and job creation?

Nanotechnologies are pervasive enabling technologies with far-reaching effects. They are expected to help address many problems facing today’s society. Market analysts foresee a world market for nanotechnologies worth between €750 and 2000 billion by 2015, and estimate that 10 million nana-related jobs will be created by 2014, i.e. 10% of all manufacturing jobs world-wide. The Commission expects nanotechnologies to contribute directly to the Lisbon Strategy, including to the competitiveness of the European industry.

What are the expected benefits of nanotechnologies for citizens and consumers?

The applications of nanotechnologies are expected to bring everyday benefits for consumers through new products, novel health applications and reduced environmental impacts. Applications already appearing include improved materials and surfaces, information and communication technologies, medical diagnostics, therapeutic tools, textiles, household products and so forth.

What are expected benefits of nanotechnologies for European industry?

Nanosciences and nanotechnologies are expected to provide a new competitive edge to European industry and to the European economy as a whole, and to contribute to job creation. The industrial application of nanotechnologies enables the manufacture of novel and improved materials that will have impacts on information and communication technologies, energy efficiency in production through novel catalysts, energy generation via more efficient solar panels, energy storage, manufacturing and instrumentation, surface finishing and lubrication as well as environmental protection and remediation.

What are the expected benefits of nanotechnologies for the environment?

Nanosciences and nanotechnologies can contribute to a more sustainable use of natural resources, due to processing and production systems that use energy and raw materials more efficiently. Substitution of certain environmentally harmful materials (e.g. lubricants) could be possible. The development of nanotechnology-based remediation methods may in the future help clean up environmental damage and pollution. Research in energy efficiency, production and storage, lightweight materials and modern insulation construction materials may likewise contribute to climate change mitigation.

What is the European policy approach to nanotechnologies?

In its Strategy and Action Plan for nanosciences and nanotechnologies, the European Commission has adopted a policy for an integrated, safe and responsible development and use of nanotechnologies. This means that innovative development and a proactive stance on potential concerns to human health and the environment, as well as ethical issues and other societal considerations, are integrated with the technical development. This approach is supported by European Council and European Parliament as well as by stakeholders.

What is the role of the Commission here?

The Commission plays two main roles, acting as a policy maker and a research funding body. For details, see specific questions on research, regulation, safety and Code of Conduct.

How is the Commission promoting research on nanotechnologies in Europe?

The Commission’s strategy in research funding is to develop nanotechnologies with due regard to societal needs and likely benefits, and the competitiveness of European industry. The total amount dedicated to nanotechnologies under the 6th Framework Programme for research was €1.4 billion, with a further €0.6 billion already allocated in 2007, the first year of the 7th Framework Programme for research and development for 2007-2013. The Commission has now become the largest single public funding agency of nanotechnology in the world, and accounts for a third of public funding of nanotechnology research in the EU. This funding is bearing fruit in terms of increasing industrial participation, patents and innovation. Some examples from recent calls for proposals are:

  • Nanomedicine: Targeted drug delivery and tissue regeneration offer promise for the treatment of serious diseases like cancer.
  • Nanostructured materials may be used for water remediation.
  • Nanostructured catalysts may improve energy conversion (in solar cells or fuel cells).
  • Nanostructured catalysts with tailor-made functional surfaces may also make industrial processes more efficient and more sustainable.
  • Pilot lines to introduce nanotechnology-based processes into the value chain of existing industries.

How is the Commission promoting innovation on nanotechnologies in Europe?

The EU innovation strategy, programmes and activities all apply to nanotechnologies and nanomaterials. The Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) aims to boost the competitiveness of European enterprises. With small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as its main target, the programme will support innovation activities (including eco-innovation), provide better access to finance and deliver business support services in the regions. It will encourage a better take-up and use of information and communications technologies (ICT) and help to develop the information society. It will also promote the increased use of renewable energies and energy efficiency.

What are the potential risks of nanomaterials to human health and the environment?

Because nanomaterials exhibit novel properties, they may expose humans and the environment to new risks. To identify the potential risks created by nanomaterials in specific applications, the Commission is relying on advice from the Scientific Committees and Panels of the European Community.

In its 2006 opinion, the Scientific Committee for Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) stated that although the existing toxicological and ecotoxicological methods are appropriate to assess many of the hazards associated with the products and processes involving nanoparticles, they may not be sufficient to address all the hazards. Current risk assessment procedures therefore need to be modified to take account of nanoparticles. The SCENIHR also identified the main gaps in the knowledge necessary for risk assessment.

How are the potential risks of nanomaterials to human health and the environment being managed?

European legislation obliges manufacturers and importers to ensure the safety of all products they put on the market. When new scientific evidence comes to light, the Commission and EU Agencies will begin by reviewing the current documents that support implementation, such as implementing legislation, standards and technical guidance, to assess their applicability and appropriateness for nanomaterials.

The Commission is funding research on the assessment of the potential impact of evolving nanotechnology applications. Increased emphasis is being placed on these activities under the Commission's new 7th Framework Programme. The EU is playing a leading role in the world in investing in research on safety. Other parties, including various EU Institutions, Member States, industry (including through the European Technology Platforms), research organizations and universities are also contributing to these research activities. Cooperation activities at the international level include the OECD Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials, which assesses testing guidelines to take into account specificities of nanomaterials, and the development of standards in ISO and CEN.

How are nanotechnologies and products of nanotechnologies regulated in the EU?

Most EU legislation addresses products but does not usually address specific technology used for their production. Although there are no provisions in EU legislation that refer explicitly to nanomaterials, existing legislation on chemicals (e.g. REACH), worker and environmental protection as well as product-specific legislation on medical devices, medicinal products, food, feed, cosmetics, plant protection products, biocides, aerosol dispensers, cars and other products covers in principle the potential health, safety and environmental risks in relation to nanomaterials.

Current legislation may however have to be modified as regards thresholds used in some legislation, for example, as new information on nanomaterials becomes available. The Commission and the relevant EU Agencies have examined and will continue to examine the applicability and appropriateness of documents supporting implementation of legislation (e.g. standards, technical guidance documents) to take account of the special properties of existing and future nanomaterials.

How does the Commission ensure that regulatory requirements cope with evolving nanotechnologies and/or nanomaterials?

EU legislation is drafted so that new technological developments can be taken into consideration. Implementation guidance and standards will be reviewed when a need to do so emerges from new data that has become available. Agencies and national authorities in charge of implementing legislation monitor the market (e.g. via pre-market control, pre-market notification or market surveillance) and will use Community market intervention mechanisms if risks are identified for products already on the market.

Commission working groups that coordinate the implementation of legislation examine the potential need for change as regards specific regulatory aspects as applications evolve and new scientific knowledge becomes available. They will take into consideration work that has been carried out in this respect at national and international level.

What are the objectives of the Code of Conduct in nanotechnology research?

The Commission Recommendation on a Code of Conduct for Responsible Nanosciences and Nanotechnology Research is based on seven principles: meaning sustainability; precaution; inclusiveness (with regard to stakeholders); excellence; innovation; and accountability (with regard to social and other impacts). The Code also proposes actions to be taken on good governance and due respect for precaution for responsible nanosciences and nanotechnology research.

The Commission encourages the voluntary adoption of the Code of Conduct by relevant national and regional authorities, employers and research funding bodies, researchers, and any individual or civil society organisations involved or interested in research of nanosciences and nanotechnologies. The Code of Conduct should also be a European basis for dialogue with third countries and international organisations.

Is there cooperation in research with countries outside the EU?

The 7th Framework Programme is open to researchers outside the EU, and partners in "international cooperation partner countries" may receive EC funding. In addition, the Commission has been active in pursuing specific collaborations, such as in safety research with the US, and materials science with India. The Commission also seeks international policy cooperation, with the aim of addressing issues of mutual benefit. The third meeting promoting an international dialogue on nanotechnology was hosted by the EU in March 2008.

How is the Commission promoting dialogue between citizens and stakeholders on nanotechnologies?

The Commission considers that effective two-way dialogue is indispensable for emerging technologies such as nanotechnologies. Public trust in and acceptance of nanotechnologies are crucial for the long-term development. The Commission and a number of the Member States have also actively promoted multi-stakeholder dialogues on nanotechnologies, and numerous other outreach activities. These events have involved, depending on the special themes of the conferences, participation of public authorities, scientists, industry associations, consumers, environment and other non-governmental organisations. Furthermore these activities complement and are coordinated with various other activities at Member State level and by international organisations. Nevertheless, surveys have indicated that European public is not yet sufficiently aware of nanosciences and nanotechnologies. However, these surveys also show that public confidence in European public authorities’ ability to ensure good governance for nanotechnology is higher in Europe than elsewhere.

How can I keep informed about nanotechnologies?

The Commission’s "europa" website on nanotechnologies provides a gateway to up to date information on the ongoing activities in various policy areas.

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