Building the future by doing more together

SYNCHRONY - SYNergies between industry and sCientific ResearcH fOr a sustainable development of NanotechnologY
Coordinator - Isabel M. Lopes
Programme - Concursos de Projectos de I&D
Execution dates - 2013-06-03 - 2015-05-31 (24 Months)
Funding Entity - FCT
Funding for CESAM - 98.653 €
Total Funding - 197.563 €
Proponent Institution - Universidade de Aveiro
Participating Institutions
Universidade de Coimbra, Greendet Lda.

Nanotechnology is claimed to be a potential engine for 21st century economic growth, as it is a major innovative scientific and economic area. In fact, it enables the exploitation of novel physicochemical properties offered by materials produced at nanometer scale. Such properties are attributed to their small size (large surface to volume ratio), conferring a high reactivity, unique optical, electrical and magnetic traits and distinct surface/aggregation properties from the bulk materials with the same chemical composition. These new nanomaterials (NM) can potentially benefit humankind, by empowering new approaches to a variety of industrial products and processes, medical devices or even water treatment and environmental remediation technologies. At present, and according with the Project on Emerging Technologies, approximately 1,317 nanotechnology-based consumer products are already on the market (;April, 2012). However, in addition to these advantageous functionalities, the same NM-desirable properties are also likely to be associated with unwanted great biological/toxicological reactivity. Therefore, the release of NM into the environment may result in unforeseen deleterious effects, which calls for preventive actions. Within the last decade, and following the recommendations of USA and European Union policies pointing to a critical need of risk assessment of NM, an increasing research effort has been devoted to understand the ecological risks associated with NM, and numerous works reported several adverse effects in the biota at different levels of biological organization. However, though such high amount of knowledge has been generated, it can still be considered limited, since the almost unlimited options in NM manufacturing, remains unknown, as well as uncertainties still persisting on the mechanisms involved in their fate, behaviour and biological effects in the environment. Presently, more than 1,000 products exist on the market claiming to be made from NM or to use or support nanotechnology, and by 2015 the USA National Science Foundation estimates that this industry will have a $ 3 trillion impact on the global economy. This rapid expansion of nanotechnology foresees an increased accidental and intentional release of NM into the environment, resulting from product manufacturing, degradation, recycling and disposal. Within this context, it is imperative to understand how NM properties may influence their fate, behavior and ecotoxicity to biota, which will permit to reduce uncertainties in their risk assessment and contribute for the development of more ecological friendly NM, i.e. for a sustainable development of nanotechnology. This will also meet worldwide initiatives and political strategies contemplating for “Smarter and Cleaner” technologies aiming a sustainable development for the industry. Within the European Union, the EU2020 strategy launched a new paradigm by claiming “Safe innovation for a competitive and sustainable future” and the European Industry is expected to adopt such clear recommendations. In addition, the Action Plan on Sustainable Industrial Policy of the European Commission aims at improving the overall environmental performance of products and encourages EU industry to innovate towards the leadership in this field. Also, in USA, the Pollution Prevention Act (, last visit April, 2012) establishes a national policy to prevent or reduce pollution at its source whenever feasible. These strategies highlight, among others, the need for: (i) preventing waste/adverse effects rather than clean up waste or remediation processes; (ii) synthetic methods that generate substances exhibiting little or no toxicity to the environment; (iii) designing chemical products with the desired functionality while minimizing their toxicity and persistence in the environment; and (iv) design NM that at the end of their function they breakdown into innocuous degradation products. Such change in values towards more safety, environmental friendliness and sustainability constitutes an open gateway to develop new products. Nanotechnology, being an emergent field constitutes an unusual opportunity to use science and engineering to design novel products that are more ecological friendly, right from the beginning. This challenge can be attained more easily and accurately through partnerships between academic institutions and industry, namely start-up companies as they usually provide pioneering technology: the industry can provide the NM to be developed to academy, which, in turn may develop protocols and use these to test environmental impacts of NM and generate hypothesis that help guide redesigning greener NM by the industry. 

CESAM Funding: