Sustainability—meeting today's needs without sacrificing tomorrow's—is the watchword of the 21st century. NIST's 2011 budget request promotes a sustainable U.S. economy through initiatives for research on green manufacturing and construction, advanced solar technologies, and factors determining the environmental, health, and safety (EHS) risks of nanomaterials.
Sunlight offers an inexhaustible energy source; however, its widespread adoption is limited by the relatively high cost and low efficiency of conventional photovoltaic cells that convert solar energy into electricity. A mismatch exists between the full range of "colors" or wavelengths of light energy emitted by the sun, and those that can be efficiently absorbed by current photovoltaic technologies. New nanotechnology-based photovoltaic materials—so called third-generation solar technologies—may greatly enhance the absorption properties of photocells through multi-layer structures optimized to absorb light at specific wavelengths spanning the full spectrum of the sun's output. However, the new materials lack the durability needed for commercial applications and developers need measurement tools to systematically optimize the electricity-generating properties of the devices.
Beyond solar cells, nanomaterials promise to solve a whole host of technology problems from better medications to less flammable plastics, and the value of nano-enabled products is expected to hit $2.6 trillion by 2014. However, nanomaterials and products that contain them pose unknown risks throughout all stages of their lifecycles to people and the environment. This uncertainty threatens to erode public trust in the safety of nanotechnology products broadly and to stifle innovation and commercialization of nanotechnology products. U.S. regulatory agencies and industry need measurement tools—standards, protocols, and models—to link measured properties of nanomaterials such as size and shape with hazardous effects such as toxicity, and properly assess and manage EHS risks.
The National Nanotechnology Initiative identifies NIST as the lead agency for developing instrumentation, metrology, and analytical methods for advancing nano-EHS knowledge, and other major stakeholders recognize NIST as the lead organization for providing nano-EHS measurement methods and standards.
Funding provided through these initiatives will allow NIST to partner with industry and other government agencies to:
Technical results produced through this funding are expected to: