This Scalable NanoManufacturing (SNM) research project uses the life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology to address the ethical, legal, and societal impacts (ELSI) in decision-making as nanomanufacturing scales to commercial production. Resource and emission inventories from three carbon nanotube (CNT) nano-enabled applications will be determined as they apply to manufacture, use, and end-of-life (EOL) management, including recycling and disposal. Cost models will be developed and inventories collected through collaboration with researchers and industry partners. To assess human exposures to CNT materials, exposure monitoring will be performed during manufacturing (machining, grinding) and at end-of-life (recycling, incineration). The viability of recycling strategies for highly-loaded polymer based CNT nanocomposites will be determined. Life cycle release, fate and transport, and ecotoxicity model outputs will be combined into an impact assessment characterization factor to be used in standard LCA software models. The assumptions embedded in LCA valuation will be examined and adjusted to better incorporate values of sustainability in decision-making. Recommendations for adapting stewardship strategies for nano-enabled products will be developed.
The research will provide greater overall insights into the utility of LCA as a decision tool for various stakeholders in the nano-enabled product value chain. State and federal policymakers will also benefit from better understanding of how LCA contributes to effective environmental governance. The project will examine how LCA approaches could be strengthened and better integrated into decision-making, with particular focus on the overall impacts of nanomaterials on emerging product stewardship programs. This research advocates the responsible development of nanotechnology as central to promoting scalable nanomanufacturing and product commercialization by offering a systematic consideration of short and long-term societal impacts to avoid unintended and unduly harmful consequences. Ultimately, this project will help to foster the sustainable development of nanotechnology.