Bren Joins AECOM in Nanotechnology Research

July 20, 2010

AECOM and Bren School to Collaborate on Nanotechnology Research

New studies will advance the understanding of nanomaterials used in environmental remediation


The Bren School of Environmental Science & Management has received $50,000 from AECOM, a Bren Corporate Partner and one of the world’s leading design and engineering firms, to launch a new nanotechnology research project. AECOM’s global environmental practice is involved in several additional projects around the world to advance the understanding, application, and potentially beneficial uses of nanotechnology.

AECOM is providing technical resources and review for the project, plus financial support for research studies to investigate the environmental fate and transport, toxicity, and safe handling of nanoscale zero valent iron (nZVI)—a nanomaterial that is proving effective in treating contaminated groundwater and soils.

"We are eager to work with AECOM on developing data needed to assess the safety of nZVI,” said Bren School professor Arturo Keller, who is associate director of the NSF/EPA-funded UC Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology. “This is a very promising technology that could be widely adopted, but we currently have little information about its environmental implications."

Microbiologist Patricia Holden and marine ecologist Hunter Lenihan, both Bren School professors, will also be involved in the work, along with researchers from their laboratories.

“We are very pleased to collaborate with the Bren School in this important research,” said Robert Weber, AECOM Environment Group Chief Executive and President of the Bren School Advisory Board. “While nZVI has been effective for groundwater treatment, the environmental and human health risks of nZVI need further study. Research such as our study is critical to helping industry and the public understand the health and environmental implications of nanomaterials.”

AECOM environmental scientists and engineers are conducting pilot tests using nZVI for cleaning up sites with contaminated groundwater, and AECOM’s Toxicology Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, has performed preliminary investigations on the aquatic toxicity of nZVI and other nanomaterials.

According to Bill Looney, coordinator of AECOM’s Nanotechnology Initiative, “Nanomaterials have unique properties that make them effective in certain remediation scenarios. For example, because nZVI’s has a much greater surface area than conventional iron powders, it is particularly useful for rapid, in situ remediation of point source groundwater contaminated with chlorinated solvents.”

Emerging non-remediation applications of nano-enabled materials include lighter, stronger coatings and structural building materials, more energy-efficient lighting, less expensive solar cells and energy storage devices, computing products, diagnostic tools, new water filtration and waste treatment technologies. Projected by Lux Research to be a US$2.5 trillion market by 2015, nanotechnology is likely to play a significant role in shaping productivity, global competitiveness and quality of life.