3 January 2022

[Nanotechnology] – Nanotechnology for disaster relief and development cooperation.

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The number of areas in which nanotechnology is applied is steadily increasing due to their unique role as cross-sectional technology. In the last few years, the versatile opportunities of nanotechnology predominantly received recognition in the areas of improved efficiency, resource conservation and more sustainable production mechanisms. However, a number of improved and innovative solutions in the areas of Disaster Relief and Development Cooperation are now also on the market.

Nanotechnology has played a critical role in ensuring that the technological advances of the last few years have not only resulted in more robust materials, but that they have also enabled and sped up the miniaturization of wireless information systems and sensors.

This development in particular is of great relevance to both the security forces and rescue units in Disaster Relief, as well as for fire brigades and other organizations. In the case of the former, nanotechnology enables specific technological improvements and innovations in the key areas of protective equipment, communications and navigation systems. While for the latter, clear benefits exist with regard to the improvement of technical equipment and rescue vehicles.

In the area of Development Cooperation which – like Disaster Relief – is often confronted with demands and scenarios that are hard to predict, solutions for nanotechnology in developing countries can offer interesting perspectives for medical care, water treatment, agriculture and food, as well as rural infrastructure development in developing countries.

A publication from the Hessian Ministry of Economics, Transport, Urban and Regional Development, aims to inform managers and staff working in Emergency Response services and Development Cooperation as well as related institutions about the innovation potential of nanotechnology for their respective fields of work, and to highlight areas of overlap. The 84-page brochure (“Nanotechnology for disaster relief and development cooperation”; pdf) also addresses companies and industry representatives that are already operating in this area or are interested in tapping in to this market.

Many end users know of nanotechnology because of the so-called lotus-effect. For example, this application makes surfaces less susceptible to pollution, which in turn leads to a reduction in the use of water, energy and detergents. What is less well known is the diverse potential for improving the characteristics of surfaces, in terms of disinfection, conductivity, changing their color or making them resistant to radiation. In the case of marine paints nano coatings can now prevent the adhesion of barnacles. As a result, the use of highly toxic biocides can be avoided, and up to 30 % may be saved in fuel usage. For aircraft, paints are currently being tested that are able to indicate hairline cracks in the fuselage, wings or tail unit by changing color, thereby contributing to increased safety.

The sustainable and responsible use of nanotechnology is the most important discipline of all. The great promises and opportunities that nanotechnology has to offer will only come to fruition if we handle nanotechnology with great care and foresight. The European Commission is proposing a code of conduct, which is due to reach as far as covering research of individual mechanisms – even though at the current stage many researchers still do not know the possible consequences and application areas of their research results. Throughout the life cycle of nanotechnology – i.e. during their production, processing, use and disposal – potential risks and consequences ought to be identified and adequately researched or addressed, in line with the precautionary principle. Aside from safety, a second principle ought to be applied: nanotechnology should be used in those areas where they not only create added value, but where they also make a contribution to sustainable development. Our Common Future (1987): “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

 

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