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Nanoremediation: Information for Decision Makers from NanoRem

Thematic Page 6: Sustainability Considerations


1.  Aim
2.  Introduction
3.  Sustainability Benefits of nZVI
4.  Sustainability Constraints
5.  NanoRem Activities
6.  Additional Resources on the NanoRem Web site
7.  References

1 Aim


nZVI is the dominant nanoparticle used in remediation to date. The aim of this page is to summarise the particular sustainability considerations from the use of nZVI for the remediation of contaminated soils and groundwater.

This thematic page summarises information provided by a chapter of the NanoRem report: 'A Risk/Benefit Appraisal for the Application of Nano-Scale Zero Valent Iron (nZVI) for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites'. The full report including additional information, detail and referencing can be downloaded from: 

2 Introduction


A sustainable remediation project is one the represents the best solution when considering environmental, social and economic factors – as agreed by the stakeholders (NICOLE Road Map for
Sustainable Remediation 2010). Sustainability encompasses a range of considerations and the balance of benefits and negative impacts is typically dependent on the specific context of a contaminated site, rather than being attributable to different technology types in general.

The importance of sustainable remediation can be seen from the
joint position statement issued by the Common Forum and NICOLE (June 2013) which recognises sustainable remediation of soil, sediment and groundwater as representing good practice and consistent with risk-informed land management.

Sustainability is very closely related to the site specific context where the nanoremediation is being applied.  However, it is possible to identify “drivers” that might indicate the technology has particular benefits or disadvantages for sustainable remediation. Little analysis has been carried out for nanoremediation so far. An initial and limited discussion is provided below.

3 Sustainability Benefits of nZVI


Remediation using nZVI could have a lower impact on soil functionality compared with many alternative in situ remediation technologies, including in situ heating, in situ chemical oxidation or the use of surfactants. Some researchers have found that far from having an adverse effect on bacterial numbers, the hydrogen generated by the nZVI created conditions beneficial to bacteria responsible for reductive dehalogenation (Kirschling 2010).

Additional sustainability benefits for nanoremediation are its reported ability to effect a complete destruction of some contaminants without leaving intermediate breakdown products (Bezbaruah 2009) and also extending the range of contaminants that can be dealt with by destruction rather than extraction or stabilisation (Kim 2008). 

4 Sustainability Constraints 

Possible adverse effects of large scale deployments of nZVI include local impacts on aquifer permeability as iron corrosion products are insoluble and may form precipitates depending on aquifer conditions. Adeleye (2013) suggests that the bulk of injected nZVI will end up in the sediment phase of an aquifer, potentially demonstrating an effect on aquifer permeability.

Additional concerns on the use of nZVI have been raised relating to the use of resources and energy for nZVI manufacture, particularly use of rare metals for doping. Friends of the Earth (2010) have raised questions about the sustainability of nano-material production and use in general, in particular its energy intensity and use of resources. Concerns have been raised regarding the cost of utilising nZVI as a remediation technology. As of 2001, costs in the USA were typically in the range of $30-40/lb (€ 23 - 31kg), while micro-scale ZVI was around $1-5/lb (€ 0.8 – 3.9 /kg), and millimetre-scale iron was generally in the range of $0.25-0.75/lb (€ 0.25 -0 0.75/kg) (conversion rate dollars to euro as of September 2014), significantly more expensive. However, it has been postulated that use of nZVI would require less material to treat the same quantity of contaminant, that the cost of reactive material forms a relatively small proportion of the overall remediation project, and that the overall remediation timescale would be reduced by the use of nZVI (See Thematic Page on Implementation Issues for Using Nanoparticles in Remediation).

5 NanoRem Activities


The NanoRem (WP 8) will:
  • Determine the most appropriate system boundaries for evaluating the broader impacts of nanoremediation when deployed in the field, compared with well-established remediation alternatives.
  • Undertake sustainability assessments, based on the NICOLE/SURF-UK guidelines, on one or more of our case study field applications of nanotechnology, using a consistent methodology (which can be downloaded here: ).
  • Undertake the life cycle inventory of nanoparticle production for one or more nanoparticles being used within the project.
  • Ensure that the resultant information from the above activities is widely disseminated to key stakeholders including Common Forum and NICOLE.
  • Debate the sustainability of nanoremediation in general with a broad range of stakeholders from inside and outside the project via a number of consultation exercises, including a project workshop which took place in Oslo, December 2014 (link: http://www.nanorem.eu/Displaynews.aspx?ID=797)

6 Additional Resources on the NanoRem Web Site

This thematic page summarises information provided by a chapter of the NanoRem report: 'A Risk/Benefit Appraisal for the Application of Nano-Scale Zero Valent Iron (nZVI) for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites'. The full report including additional information, detail and referencing can be downloaded from: 

Additional summary information is also available on the following online pages:


Currently we have the following FAQ pages:




7 References

A framework for assessing the sustainability of soil and groundwater Remediation, UK Sustainable Remediation Forum (SuRF-UK), (2014)


ADELEYE, A. S., KELLER, A. A., MILLER, R. J., AND LENIHAN, H. S. 2013. ‘Persistence of commercial nanoscaled zero-valent iron (nZVI) and by-products’, Journal of Nanoparticle Research, 15, 1, 1-18.

BARNES, R.J., RIBA, O., GARDNER, M.N., SINGER, A.C., JACKMAN, S.A. AND THOMPSON, I.P. 2010 ‘Inhibition of biological TCE and sulphate reduction in the presence of iron nanoparticles’, Chemosphere, 80, 554–562.


BEZBARUAH, A.N., THOMPSON, J.M. AND CHISHOLM, B.J. 2009 ‘Remediation of alachlor and atrazine contaminated water with zero-valent iron nanoparticles’, Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part B: Pesticides, Food Contaminants and Agricultural Wastes, 44, 6, 518-524


FRIENDS OF THE EARTH 2010 Nanotechnology, climate and energy: overheated promises and hot air?

KIM, J-H., TRATNYEK, P.G., AND CHANG, Y-S. 2008. ‘Rapid dechlorination of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins by bimetallic and nanosized zerovalent iron’. Environmental Science & Technology, 42, 11, 4106-4112.


KIRSCHLING, T.L., GREGORY, K.B., MINKLEY, E.G., LOWRY, G.V. AND TILTON, R.G. 2010. ‘Impact of nanoscale zero valent iron on geochemistry and microbial populations in trichloroethylene contaminated aquifer materials’, Environmental Science and Technology, 44, 9, 3474–3480.


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Taking Nanotechnological Remediation Processes from Lab Scale to End User Applications for the Restoration of a Clean Environment.
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