The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) welcomes the opportunity to comment on this document.

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is one of the UK’s seven Research Councils. It funds and carries out impartial scientific research in the sciences of the environment. NERC trains the next generation of independent environmental scientists. Its priority research areas are: Earth’s life-support systems, climate change, and sustainable economies.

NERC’s research centres are: the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the British Geological Survey (BGS), the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (POL). A list of NERC’s collaborative centres is appended.

NERC welcomes the Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering Working Group study on Nanotechnology, as it will provide an independent assessment of the technology. Any new technology has to be scrutinised closely to evaluate both the benefits and the risks. NERC is strongly in favour of exploring developments in nanotechnology to address environmental issues and to help ensure a sustainable future.

It goes beyond the small is beautiful. Measurements at the scale of communities, organisms and biochemical processes provide the detail needed to measure perturbation, response and natural variation. These parameters are essential to make valid predictions of impact and recovery. Whilst biosensors are key to this specific area, wider applications to quality of life are apparent and there may be wider issues that should be considered. This will happen as a part of this important and timely review.

NERC can clearly have input in the assessment of impact to ecosystem processes that may arise as a result of the application of these emerging technologies.

In particular, from a NERC perspective, development in nanotechnology could:

1. Underpin programmes such as the joint research council Environment and Health initiative
2. It could help by reducing waste and helping provide sustainable food, water, and energy
3. Nanoparticles could be used as sensors to monitor air or drinking water for the presence of toxins
4. It is also possible in future that nanosensors could be networked to provide unobtrusive continual monitoring of our environment to guard against chemical or biological weapons (pertinent to the current Royal Society Detection and Decontamination Working Group activities)
5. Pollution-absorbing nanoparticles could be used to clean up contaminated water or soil
6. Material recover to reduce waste streams
7. Allow small, point-of-use devices to assess water quality and food quality (e.g. shellfish)
8. Monitor air-borne pollution and provide nanocatylysts to improve air quality.
9. Additional benefits include the development of surfaces that minimise microbial colonisation by the inclusion of antimicrobial substances and cell-signaling molecules. These have obvious medical applications in prosthetics, implants and bio-batteries, which are all subject to biofouling. The application of bio-nanotechnology will be significant in reducing infection and wear due to biofilm development, but also in the wider environment the biofouling of many industrial processes from energy production to waste water treatment and purification can be reduced. Reducing costs, increasing efficiency and improving the quality of life

In many areas study is already well advanced, and overall NERC is strongly supportive of the initiative for this clean technology.

July 2003


NERC Research Centres
British Antarctic Survey (BAS)
British Geological Survey (BGS)
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH)
Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (POL)

NERC Collaborative Centres
Centre of observation of Air-Sea Interactions and Fluxes (CASIX)
Centre for Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes and Tectonics (COMET)
Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM)
Centre for Population Biology (CPB)
Centre for Terrestrial Carbon Dynamics (CTCD)
Climate and Land Surface Systems Interaction Centre (CLASSIC)
Data Assimilation Research Centre (DARC)
Environmental Systems Science Centre (ESSC)
NERC Centres for Atmospheric Science (NCAS)
National Institute for Environmental eScience (NIEeS)
Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)
Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS)
Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU)
Southampton Oceanography Centre (SOC)
Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

Further information on all these centres can be found on the NERC web site