NanoFASE Case Studies - Overview

Today thousands of consumer products and other industrial applications use engineered nanomaterials (ENMs). Measuring e.g. 20, 30 or 50 billionths of a meter, nanoforms of substances enable strong effects to be obtained from very small volumes of elements or chemical compounds, making them a "key enabling technology" in Europe's 2020 Strategy for future economic growth and societal well-being. But how ENMs may impact the environment, and ultimately health, is still relatively poorly known.

What happens to ENMs released throughout the value chain – in the manufacture, distribution, use, and disposal of nano-enabled products? Do they pose a risk to the fauna, the flora and to human health? While the potential toxic impact of ENMs on living organisms has been intensively researched and much data and understanding exist, assessing potential environmental impacts of ENMs requires the ability to estimate the actual distribution, concentration and eventual forms taken by nanoparticles in our soil, air, water and sediments, as well as the food chain. These aspects, the fate and behaviour of ENMs released in the environment, are less well known and researched up to now – but NanoFASE addresses this challenge. Moving beyond the typical research focus on physical/chemical properties of pristine laboratory particles, NanoFASE innovates by modelling the functional and behaviour patterns of ENMs across time in variable, real environments. This knowledge can be combined with hazard knowledge from other sources to arrive at a detailed assessment of environmental risk.

In developing the NanoFASE suite of ENM environmental exposure modelling tools, we perform case study analyses and experiments to both: (1) understand the most likely release routes from nano-enabled products to the environment, and (2) understand the processes and factors that will ultimately affect the end form, environmental location and concentration of released ENMs. Findings from these case studies help identify new parameters to be included in NanoFASE models to increase their realism. The studies also provide data that help test and validate the models that have already been developed.

The NanoFASE case studies can be separated into four broad categories as described below. Click to access the individual studies.

Nano-Enabled Products: Release Pathway Analysis Case Studies


Across the life cycle of nano-enabled products (NEPs), some quantity of ENMs may be released at manufacturing, use or end of life stages. To identify potential environmental release pathways of ENMs, NanoFASE in close cooperation with our industrial partners carried out a life cycle analysis for several (existing or test) products, producing the first inventory of ENM production, ENM use and ENM release modelled at European Member State level for TiO2, Ag, ZnO, carbon black and Cu-based nanomaterials.

In cases where the release of particles is not part of the functionality of the NEP, such release can be designated as unintended,  or as an uncontrolled emission, for two reasons: a) the products depend on retaining  their nano content to perform their expected function, and b) manufacturers always actively seek to avoid waste or dispersion of the expensive materials during production.

Five Release Pathway Analysis case studies are presented, each centered on a nano-enabled product (hypothetical or existing). For each one, a pathway analysis along the life cycle (product value chain) has been performed, with stages including production, manufacturing, consumption or use of nano-enabled products and product recycling. Each looks at pathways of unintended release of ENMs from industrial processes and products, assessing volume and rate as well as the transformations taking place. Additional information is provided on potential release scenarios, forms and rates. These case studies focus on release processes during product use (weathering, washing, abrasion) or at the end-of-life stage (leaching).

A detailed accidental release scenario approach relative to the Air compartment can be accessed as well.

Release pathway analyses

Accidental release scenario

Intentional and Deliberate Release Case Studies


Some nano-enabled products deliberately employ release of ENMs into the environment to perform intended functions: fertilizers, pesticides, groundwater remedial applications. The NanoFASE case studies of such intentional release assess the fate of ENM from these applications, identifying factors that influence the ultimate destination of the NPs as well as NP transformation within the environment. These factors are translated into parameters improving the realism of NanoFASE models.

Remediation, Pesticides and Fertilizer case studies

Characterisation Case Studies - Particles and transformations


A range of controlled experimental case studies performed by NanoFASE partners deliver detailed ENM measurement and characterisation of particles at particular points in their life cycle. The ability of NanoFASE chemically-labelled particles to facilitate detection against high natural background levels was explored, as were the particular fate and transformation of particles in the managed waste stream.

Doped particle detection

Removal efficiency

Sewage sludge incineration

Experimental Case Studies - Fate in the Living Environment


Finally, NanoFASE experimental case studies use specific ENMs (produced by NanoFASE partners or obtained from suppliers) under controlled experimental conditions to assess ENM transformation, uptake and elimination by a range of soil- and water-dwelling organisms and plants. Focussed on silver NPs, these studies provide parameters to NanoFASE models to assess ENM fate within the living environment. To increase realism and understand complex interactions in the environment, NanoFASE also has conducted mesocosm studies.

Invertebrates, Plants and Mesocosms studies

Read more


Visit the NanoFASE library to read summaries of these reports:

NanoFASE Report D4.2 Release estimations during ENMs and nano-enabled products value chain

NanoFASE Report D7.3 Report on differences in framework for assessment of intentional versus unintentional terrestrial NM exposures.

Kägi et al., Fate of nanoparticles in managed waste streams. Presentation at Nanotechnologies Industries Association (NIA) 8th Symposium, March 2019.

NanoFASE Mesocosms Video Presentation



Geert Cornelis

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU)



Socorro Vázquez-Campos




Ralf Kägi




Iseult Lynch

University of Birmingham



Susana Loureiro

University of Aveiro



Nico van den Brink