Nanotechnology in the Netherlands

The government wants the Netherlands to remain at the forefront of global nanotechnology development. But it is also concerned about the possible risks.

Technology at an extremely small scale

Nanotechnology makes it possible to work with particles at the nanoscale. One nanometre (nm) is equivalent to one billionth of a metre.

Nanotechnology applications

Nanotechnology can be applied in a range of fields such as health care, for producing medicines from new materials at nanoscale. In IT, nanotechnology can help to improve computer chips. It can also play a role in the production of foodstuffs.

The following products often contain nanoparticles:

  • toothpaste, deodorant, textiles and plasters;
  • sunscreen and paint;
  • television screens, lenses, mirrors and windows;
  • tennis rackets, car tyres and bullet-proof vests.

Many new applications of nanotechnology are expected in the next few years.

Nanotechnology research in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is investing in research into nanotechnology, notably at the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology and the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience.

The main Dutch research programme is NanoNextNL, a joint venture involving government, the business community and scientific research institutes. Together they are studying new challenges in health, food, energy and water.

Nanotechnology and top sectors

Nanotechnology overlaps with a variety of other technologies. Because of this, it is potentially significant for many branches of trade and industry, especially the following top economic sectors:

  • high tech;
  • life sciences & health;
  • agri-food;
  • the chemical industry;
  • energy;
  • water.

Nanotechnology risks

The NanoNextNL project includes substantial research into the risks of nanotechnology. The main focus is on the potential risks of free, ‘fixed’ nanoparticles. In regard to the processing of nanoparticles, the government wants to ensure that the risk to humans and the environment is negligible or nil. For this purpose, there is a central monitoring organisation in the Netherlands: the Risks of Nanotechnology Knowledge and Information Centre (KIR nano), which belongs to the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM).

International focus on nanotechnology risks

International agreements are vital to ensure that of the risks of nanotechnology are properly managed. The Netherlands is engaged in international research programmes, such as those run by the EU and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The OECD programme focuses on the safety of manufactured nanomaterials. The participating countries discuss a variety of issues, including how to assess the risks and which methods and instruments to use for this purpose.

European Code of Conduct

The EU has drawn up a Code of Conduct for responsible nanosciences and nanotechnologies research.

Communication about nanotechnology

The EU member states have agreed to inform their citizens about nanotechnology. In the Netherlands, the body tasked with providing this information is National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). This includes information about policy and legislation and about applications and risks.

See also