A little wisdom to help develop a partnership between the new EPA and the nanotechnology community.
Gina McCarthy's nomination to head the Environmental Protection Agency probably won't have been Senate confirmed before this article goes to press, but I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb to say, "Welcome… and may I have a moment of your time?"
All indications are that McCarthy has done a good job of navigating the rocky road of power generation and auto emissions in the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. And while not everyone agrees with every decision, there's almost universal respect for her integrity.
That's why I'd like to offer a little advice -- even before she has a chance to get settled into her new office. Nanotechnology now becomes a larger part of her policy portfolio. Environmental oversight is, of course, part of the task. But I'd like to also say a word -- or seven -- about how nanotechnology can play a vital role in addressing the challenges the EPA and our country face.
- Sustainability. Less is more. Let me repeat that: less is more. That's what nanotechnology is all about. Less material to deliver the same or enhanced properties. And that means less impact on the environment because less material has to be extracted or made or disposed of. The efficiency of nano-manufacturing can also mean smaller industrial footprints that save resources and reduce waste.
- Water. You probably already know this one. Nanotechnology is leading the way in water filtration, both in pollution remediation and in production of clean drinking water. And, let me remind you of one other point. Nanotechnology can help reduce the amount of water we use. For example, an easy-clean nanocoating will reduce the amount of water and cleaning chemicals needed for maintenance.
- Air. As with water, nanotechnology offers incredible potential for air filtration -- from automobiles to smokestacks. And, of course, it can be an element of cleaner manufacturing, so there's less necessity for clean-up.
- Energy. Do you want better mileage from cars? Look at nanotechnology's ability to reduce weight. More efficient solar energy? Check out nanotech in batteries and efficiency-boosting nanocoatings on solar panels. Power plants, oil rigs, fracking sites could be made more productive and efficient, cleaner and smarter.
- Jobs. Innovation is the key to strengthening our economy. Nanotech is a game-changer that gives the U.S. an edge in the knowledge-based economy, and the foundation for advanced manufacturing. Advanced materials, medical devices, electronics, and the aforementioned water, air and energy -- those are the drivers that will keep us a global economic leader.
- Science. The American Chemistry Council (full disclosure: my company is a member) offers this encouraging assessment about your track record: "In our experience she has listened carefully to all stakeholders and based her decisions in sound science."Keep it up! Remember that nanotechnology has been a part of the earth's environment since the beginning of time. Nanoscale materials occur naturally -- from our own DNA to volcanic dust. As we develop the potential of nanotech, a common-sense approach built on millennia of history is a trustworthy guide.
- Partnership. How else could you have served both Republican governor Mitt Romney and Democratic president Barack Obama, and received praise from both? I read over and over that partisans on all sides of issues praise your sense of balance and your willingness to listen to all viewpoints. I hope Stephen Harper, director of Environment and Energy Policy at Intel, got it right. He said, "When you go into a meeting with Gina, you know where she stands on the environment, but she's very pragmatic about the means to achieving an end. We think she's somebody the industry can work with on problem-solving."
President Obama said in his nomination announcement that you're going to "hit the ground running." That's good news -- because there's much to be done and many opportunities for making a difference. Rest assured that the nanotechnology community is ready to set the pace with you.
Scott E. Rickert is chief executive of Nanofilm, Ltd.