The European Union’s executive arm has defined “nanomaterial” as a material
composed of particles that have “internal surface structure in the range betwee n 1
and 100 billionth of a metre (nm), such as computer chips”, in a recommendation published online 18 October.
This has relevance to Bio4Energy since scientists on its Pretreatment and Fractionation Platform conduct research to design new materials using nanotechnology. Moreover researchers on the B4E Catalysis and Separation Platform have used nano-based materials extracted from metals to design membranes or catalysts, for instance to render the production of hydrogen from renewable raw materials more efficient per unit of output. (The latter materials might be considered nano-based composite or porous materials, however.)
The definition, adopted as part of a European Commission recommendation and based on advice from an EU executive’s scientific committees, is not binding per se, but will be enforced as a common standard across specific legislation that the Commission might propose or amend, according to a memo provided to journalists. More specifically, the definition will “primarily be used to identify materials for which special provision (concerning for example risk assessment or ingredient labeling) might apply”.
A statement from the European Commission said that the move “marks an important step towards greater protection for citizens, clearly defining which materials need special treatment in specific legislation” since, despite their extensive use in consumer products, many nanomaterails had not yet been assessed for their health and safety effects.
Numbers, not mass
The Commission acknowledged that various “working” definitions of nanomaterials had been used by other entities but that “most of them are not as precise the present Recommendation”.
This proposes to measure the particle distribution of nanomaterials in number, and not by mass, in line with the advice by the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks to the effect that, “a low mass concentration of nanoparticles in a product may still represent a high number of particles and a mass based distribution can be skewed by the presence of relatively few large and thus heavy particles".
“Nanostructured” materials did not fall within the scope of the recommendation but this would be subject to review in 2014", the Commission explained;
“The Recommendation only concerns particulate nanomaterials. It is equally applicable to particles in an unbound stage as well as when they are aggregated or agglomerated. The Commission did not include other types of nanostructured materials such as nanoporous or nanocomposite materials that are used in some sectors as there is currently not sufficient evidence to guide what materials should be included”.
On its website, the Commission says that nanomaterials are chemical substances or materials that are manufactured and used at a very small scale, down to 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Nanomaterials are developed to exhibit novel characteristics (such as increased strength, chemical reactivity or conductivity) compared to the same material without nanoscale features.
The full definition as spelled out in the undated draft Commission recommendation on the definition of a nanomaterial was drawn up based on advice by SCHENIHR and by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy:
"'Nanomaterial' means a natural, incidental or manufactured material containing particles, in an unbound state or as an aggregate or as an agglomerate and where, for 50 per cent or more of the particles in the number size distribution, one or more external dimensions is in the size range 1 nm - 100 nm. In specific cases and where warranted by concerns for the environment, health, safety or competitiveness the number size distribution threshold of 50 per cent may be replaced by a threshold between 1 and 50 per cent”.