For the first time, the health and environmental risks of novel (nano) materials are being investigated considering the entire life cycle. In addition to novel nanomaterials, the project also focuses on materials for new manufacturing processes, such as 3D printing.
"Where safety research is concerned, (nano) materials have mainly been viewed individually up to now and not with respect to their intended use. This is not sufficient, as in real life they occur in many different forms and in products they are usually combined with other materials," states BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. Within the joint research project InnoMat.Life, which is being funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with the sum of 2.22 million euro and coordinated by the BfR, 10 partners from public authorities, academia and industry are cooperating to establish criteria for an efficient assessment of the human health and environmental risks of novel (nano) materials.
In relation to their size of 100 nm or less, nanomaterials are dwarfs, but in relation to their scientific and economic significance they are veritable giants. Everyday life would be barely conceivable without them, as they are to be found in numerous products. They are used among other things as UV filters in sun lotions, they render textiles dirt repellent or tearproof, and packaging more efficient.
Until now, nanosafety research mainly focused on first generation nanomaterials, i.e. mainly round particles of pure substances such as nanosilver, titanium oxide and zinc oxide. More advanced materials have been studies only exemplary, such as carbon nanotubes and graphene, extremely thin platelets made of carbon.
In real life, however, far more materials are used. Often hybrid materials, consisting of two or more substances, are applied. In addition, nanoparticles can have many different shapes. Many of the industrially used materials cover a broad size distribution from nanometres to micrometres. Moreover, many industrial applications are based on material systems which alter their structure during manufacturing or use. An example of this is layer-by-layer assembly, i.e. the additive manufacture of products with 3D printers.
To also ensure the safety of these innovations, InnoMat.Life expands the research focus and addresses new material classes. These include materials with a broad particle size distribution, such as metals and polymer powders for 3D printing as an exemplary process of additive manufacturing, as well as materials with other shapes and sizes, such as rods, platelets and fibres. A third focus area comprises hybrid materials made from two or more substances.
The great variety of materials shows that not every material variant can be tested individually in detail to fulfil regulatory requirements. Consequently, one of the main goals of InnoMat.Life is to establish criteria catalogues such that these novel materials can be grouped together with regard to their hazard potential. This will be done also considering exposure potential for humans and the environment. The project takes into account the full material life cycle, from synthesis to disposal.
Experts from academia, public authorities and industry are working together to achieve these objectives. Project outcomes will be actively communicated from the beginning to national and international committees in order to improve regulations and thereby safety.
About the BfR
The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.
This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.