FAQ - Fraunhofer Nanotechnology FNT

Safety of nanomaterials

As with all new technologies, nano also needs the balance of opportunities and risks to enable sustainable adoption in many applications. The risk is always linked to the danger and the exposure. As long as there is no exposure, the risk is very small. If exposure is unavoidable, there are measures to allow the handling of potentially hazardous substances, e.g. in the manufacture of nanomaterials. Below are some important documents on this topic.


Safety Documents for Download

https://www.nanopartikel.info/en/  (DaNa Website)

https://www.baua.de/EN/Topics/Safe-use-of-chemicals-and-products/Innovative-materials/Nanotechnology/ (baua Website)

Risk Assessment, Human and Environmental Toxicology of Nanomaterials (PDF, 880 KB)

Nanomaterials in the environment – Current state of knowledge and regulations on chemical safety (PDF, 660 KB)

Nanomaterials: certain aspects of application, risk assessment and risk communication (Source: Laux et. al., 2017, PDF, 2.2 MB)

CEPE-Guidance for the Handling of engineered Nano-Objects in the Workplace (PDF, 280 KB)

Safety Guidance for Workers and Employers

WHO guidelines from potential risks on protecting workers of manufactured nanomaterials (PDF, 583 KB)

ftp://ftp.cencenelec.eu/CEN/WhatWeDo/Fields/Nanotech/CEN-TC352_N0406.pdf (external PDF)

Working Safely with Manufactured Nanomaterials - Guidance for Workers (PDF, 670 KB)

Guidance on the protection of the health and safety of workers from the potential risks related to nanomaterials at work (PDF, 1.5 MB)


  • This was probably the case until a few years ago, but in the meantime there are ISO definitions on different aspects (see "What is Nanotechnology ?"). In short: Its nanotechnology if all these three criteria apply:

    • Materials have characteristic sizes between 1-100 nm (i.e. really small)
    • Properties are size dependent e.g. color
    • Materials can be produced on a technical scale (in a controlled fashion)
  • This applies only to the molecular nanotechnology (Kim Eric Drexler: "Engines of creation" 1986), the current nano-applications already have a market volume of at least 250 billion euro worldwide.

  • In fact, some applications can use nanoeffects to achieve clean surfaces. However, the lotus effect actually does not necessarily work with nanostructures. Clean surfaces are probably relevant because these effects are visible / desirable for everyone in everyday life. But this is just a very small section of nanotechnology (see "Where is Nano ?")

  • No, materials are not toxic only because they are nanosized. Every case has to be tested separatly. Especially the inhalative exposure should be as small as possible, which is known from the discussion on fine dust loads. The general rule also applies here: If there is no exposure, there is no risk, in other words, avoid exposure if you are not certain. There are guidelines avaible for the sustainable and safe use of nanomaterials (see download section "safety of nanomaterials").

  • This is true in some cases, e.g. in electronics, which uses characteristic structural sizes of less than 100 nm for years, or in optics. However, there are many cases where clean rooms and expensive facilities, e.g. molecular beam epitaxy, etc. are not necessary. This applies above all to chemical nanotechnology, which can often work with classical chemical reactor systems.

  • Indeed, much of it has a long history (inks, coloring of glasses etc.) but only in the last decades the reason for the effects could be understood by improved nanoanalysis. Chemistry actually works with very small structures, but this can be called nanotechnology only if working with individual/single atoms / molecules, which is rather rare.

  • Each new technology starts with high expectations, which usually are not realized with all the promises made at the start (Gardners hype cycle). This is also true here. However now nanotechnology is on its way to full productivity. Nano as a tool for material development will not disappear, even if the term is used less frequently in the future.

  • Not necessarily. If one achieves effects with fewer material use or save process steps it can be even cheaper. Of course, if nano offers no functional advantages, no one will probably use it.  

  • This is certainly true when looking at individual applications or process steps. However, for an overall consideration, the energy / resource efficiency for the production of the nanomaterials must also be taken into account.

  • There are often alternatives to nano solutions, but in some cases, nano is without alternative.

    • for the impregnation of porous materials (ceramics, concrete etc.). If the particles are too large you can not fill small pores ...
    • Fillers for use in micro systems, in thin layers or fibers: the smaller the system, the smaller the filler must be. Permanent miniaturization therefore needs more nano..
    • Fillers for transparent systems e.g. for mechanical reinforcement. Only if the nanofillers are small enough, no unwanted light scattering takes place, the optical materials stay transparent.
    • Maintaining the optical, haptic and heat conduction properties of substrates. The optical effect is preserved only when the layer is very thin, the hardness of the substrate is preserved or only a small heat resistance occurs e.g. in heat transfer processes (heat exchanger)..
    • Material separation of small molecules / gases: Only if the nanopores are small enough, the separation is successful e.g. for water purification with ceramic membranes
  • Not really, since with a small amount of nanomaterial much effect can be achieved and many nanomaterials are not used in high quantities. However, if you create a nanomaterial with exceptional properties, which can not be generated otherwise - a true enabling material - and if you are the first to put it on the market, profits might be high. In general the added value is highest in the field of semi-finished products (e.g. nanocomposites), since here the essential know-how for the processing of nanomaterials comes into play (avoiding agglomeration).