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How safe is nano?

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Zur Forderung Der Angewandten Forschung E.V. : 20 December, 2006  (Technical Article)
Nanocosmetics, nanopaint, nano car-wash: 'Nano' is already a well-established market, with nanoparticle sales forecast at 900 million US dollars in 2005. So far though, not much is known about the short and long-term effects on health and environment.
Nanoparticles have already found their way into a wide range of products: cosmetics, paints or tires. These tiny particles are even a selling point for car-care products. So far, however, little research has been done into how they impact on the environment and the human organism. INOS, the 'Identification and Assessment of the Risks of Engineered Nanoparticles on Human Health and Environment' research project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, now aims to throw light on these issues. The Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS in Dresden is involved in this project. 'We can draw on our extensive experience of working with powders on a nanometer scale,' reports project manager Dr. Volkmar Richter of the IKTS.

The Dresden-based researchers are now investigating synthetic nanoparticles, which are manufactured by project partners and already in use for engineering purposes. These include hard materials such as tungsten carbide, metals like platinum, and carbon nanotubes. These nanoparticles are sheathed in oxide or organic films at the IKTS, the films form during processing or are applied specifically to modify properties. These protective coatings can however influence how materials interact with water and cells. The scientists are investigating the nanoparticles, with and without protective sheaths, individually and as agglomerates, in cell cultures. This research should allow them to find out how easily the particles can penetrate into cells of skin, lungs, intestines or nervous system. Do they cause genetic damage or have an effect on the immune system? The answers to these questions are still unclear. Research findings are still scarce and often contradictory. 'Thatís not surprising, often you find publications with don't specify the precise characteristics of the particles,' Volkmar Richter adds critically. And it is precisely these failings that the IKTS researchers want to address through INOS.

A joint project involving TU Dresden and the UFZ Centre for Environmental Research Leipzig-Halle aims to find out how nanoparticles affect cells, without performing tests on animals.The researchers will make their findings public in a database. After the end of the project, an accredited laboratory is also planned, which will act as a point of contact for small and mid-sized enterprises in particular and carry out further analysis of nanoparticles.
21 December 2006

Intelligent commercial properties

Fraunhofer and Hochtief started a large-scale 'innovative buildings' project. The technologies involved cover the spectrum from construction physics through microelectronics. The aim is to develop intelligent technologies for utility buildings and bring these to market maturity.

'The real estate sector has an enormous amount of catching-up to do in the field of innovations', says Dr. Dirk-Meints Polter, Fraunhofer Executive Board member for Human Resources and Legal. 'Compared, for instance, with all the developments in the automotive industry in recent years regarding safety, comfort, user-friendliness, reliability and also entertainment, the property business is still back in the early 1970s.' The new project is aimed at changing this. The research team is erecting a special-purpose facility to implement and demonstrate its ideas. Named 'inHaus2', it will be constructed on a 5,500 square-meter site in Duisburg, close to 'inHaus1', which already serves as a laboratory for innovative residential properties. The new building will incorporate trail-blazing concepts for the commercial properties of the future. Even before ground-breaking for the new facility, Fraunhofer and HOCHTIEF are cooperating on the developement of integrated design and planning, construction an operations methods.

By mid-2008, it will evolve into a high-flexibility building capable of adaptation to the wishes and requirements of a variety of occupants. In the research wing, rooms geared specifically to such applications as hotels, hospitals or retirement homes will be designed and purpose-tested. The researchers will also investigate how to enable office premises to adapt flexibly to different forms of utilization or types of user. For this, rooms with the requisite electronic and IT infrastructure and all the necessary fittings, furnishings and equipment will be installed on the planned three floors of the building. Research and development work will then continue to the end of 2010 in order to test the systems in actual operation, optimize them and bring them to market maturity. 'Hochtief will organize the erecting of 'inHaus2' as an 'intelligent building site''ā says Dr. Friedel Abel, CEO of HOCHTIEF Construction AG. 'For instance, building materials will be fitted out with chips. On completion, these will be able to provide information on the degree of heat insulation.' In addition to design, planning and construction, Hochtief will be responsible for facility management and will partner Fraunhofer in the planned R&D projects.

The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is contributing about EUR 3.6 million to project financing from its own resources, while HOCHTIEF will invest a total of EUR 4.3 million. Fraunhofer and HOCHTIEF have drawn up a comprehensive R&D plan, incorporating the know-how of nine Fraunhofer institutes, HOCHTIEF Construction and HOCHTIEF Facility Management.
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