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What is a nanomaterial?

Home FAQNanomaterials are chemical substances or materials that are manufactured and used at a very small scale. Nanomaterials are developed to exhibit novel characteristics compared to the same material without nanoscale features, such as increased strength, chemical reactivity or conductivity.

ISO (2015) defines a nanomaterial as a:

‘material with any external dimension in the nanoscale (size range from approximately 1 – 100 nm) or having internal structure or surface structure in the nanoscale’.

In 2011, the European Commission released a specific recommendation on the definition of a nanomaterial (EC, 2011) which should be used in European Regulations, including REACH and CLP. According to this Recommendation, a “nanomaterial” means:

A natural, incidental or manufactured material containing particles, in an unbound state or as an aggregate or as an agglomerate and where, for 50 % or more of the particles in the number size distribution, one or more external dimensions is in the size range 1 nm - 100 nm.

In specific cases and where warranted by concerns for the environment, health, safety or competitiveness the number size distribution threshold of 50 % may be replaced by a threshold between 1 and 50 %.

By derogation from the above, fullerenes, graphene flakes and single wall carbon nanotubes with one or more external dimensions below 1 nm should be considered as nanomaterials.

Nanomaterials that are naturally occurring (e.g., volcanic ash, soot from forest fires) or are generated as incidental (unintentional) by-products of combustion processes (e.g., welding, diesel engines) are usually physically and chemically heterogeneous and often termed ‘ultrafine particles’. Engineered nanomaterials, on the other hand, are intentionally produced and designed with physico-chemical properties for a specific purpose or function.

Did you know?

4 µm is the median aerodynamic diameter of particles that fall within the respirable size range.