Nanotech to realize the utopia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals


Nanotechnology has important roles to play in international efforts in sustainability.

We discuss how current and future capabilities in nanotechnology align with and support the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

In 2017, the United Nations set out the urgent call for action for all countries in its Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), recognizing that ending poverty and other deprivations go hand-in-hand with improving health, environment, and the economy to reduce inequality in all areas.

In November 2020, representatives from a group of leading nanotechnology research institutes met for the virtual International Workshop on Nanotechnology for a Sustainable Future with a focus on how nanotechnology and its applications can address these goals, with speakers from five countries spanning four continents hosted by the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Waterloo, Canada. Here, one of the key outcomes was recognizing the need for an International Network for Sustainable Nanotechnology (N4SNano) to create a global forum to find solutions to achieve this vision and to invite others with new thoughts and ideas. A main focus of this network is to bridge the wide gap between scientists and technologists with governments and policymakers around the world for ready adoption of much-needed technology-based solutions to our current problems.

This Nano Focus article is a combined effort of the founding institutes in the initial partner countries — Australia, Canada, The Netherlands, and the United States, as well as representatives from the Japan Science and Technology Agency — that outlines the advances in nanotechnology research that are linked to the UN SDGs and how nanotechnology serves Society 5.0 and all its fundamental aspects.



Why Now?

The world is currently suffering from the individual and collective effects of biodiversity loss, deforestation, irresponsible waste disposal, air pollution, water insecurity, toxic burdens, plastics pollution, global warming from fossil fuels, and climate change.

Social stressors in many regions lead to poor health, inadequate access to medical care, and poor education and skills training, further leading to expanding inequalities. Civilization is on a dangerous path with an uncertain future.

As mentioned above, the UN SDGs were developed to meet the urgent environmental, political, and economic challenges facing society.

These 17 goals interconnect, and success in one can bring about success in others: science and technology are constantly striving to contribute to advances in good health (#3), clean water (#6), energy and environment (#7, #13, #14, and #15), innovation and infrastructure (#9 and #11), and responsible consumption and production (#12). Successes here lead to reduced poverty and hunger (#1 and #2), improved equality, education, and economic growth (#4, #5, #8, and #10), which, in turn, will lead to the ultimate universal goal — peace, justice, and strong institutions (#16). The best way to approach these goals is to assemble well-balanced teams (#17) to tackle current needs with emerging and existing global talent.

Figure 1 illustrates the UN SDGs as a pathway to solutions for current social and environmental stressors.

Areas in which nanotechnology advances are making differences include energy, environmental protection, resource management, and healthcare through the development of smart materials and connected devices. Further, nanoscience and nanotechnology, as fields, have developed communication skills to bring scientific, engineering, medical, and other communities together, and have thus impacted many related fields.


Over the past decade, countries across the globe, including Australia, Canada, Japan, The Netherlands, the affiliated countries of the contributing authors, and many others, have consciously made significant investments in nanotechnology.

In the United States, the federal budget for nanotechnology has exceeded $1.8 billion per year for the last 2 years.

In Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC, the main federal funding agency for STEM disciplines) invested $432 million in nanotechnology between 2010 and 2019. In The Netherlands, the federal government funded NanoNextNL, the national program in nanotechnology: €250 million from 2011 to 2017In Japan, industries invested ¥106 billion, and universities and national laboratories invested ¥58 billion in 2018, for a total investment of ¥164 billion (US$1.5 billion) in nanotechnology research.


We are already seeing the impact of these governmental investments now and will continue to do so in the coming years.

A prominent example is the way mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 are delivered through lipid nanoparticles, which is indeed a game changer, and is based on decades of fundamental research in nanoscience and nanotechnology. 


Many other examples can be drawn from other aspects of life: for example, nanotechnology has revolutionized cellphone technology and our ability to store foods with longer shelf-lives using nanosilver-coated refrigerators and is at the forefront of the quantum era, demonstrating stable qubits using complex micro/nanofabrication processes. One key to these developments is how we consciously address the sustainability aspects of nanotechnology and its uptake in society for broader public good.


Society 5.0 was introduced as a central concept of the fifth Midterm Science, Technology, and Innovation Basic Plan by the Japanese government covering the fiscal years from 2016 to 2020.

Society 5.0 is a human-centered society that achieves both economic development and resolution of social issues by sophisticated integration of the cyber world with the physical world, thus contributing to realizing the UN SDGs.

We are now ready to achieve Society 5.0 after a long history from the hunter−gatherer society and the agricultural society we once knew, through the industrial society and the information society as shown in Figure 3.

For health and medical care, long and healthy life expectancy is ensured through preventive medical monitors and nursing robots, and social costs for medical care are reduced. In food production and delivery, food production increases and food loss is reduced through work-automation and optimized delivery. In the case of energy, stable energy supplies are ensured and greenhouse gases are reduced through diversification of energy and energy consumption on site. For smart factories, production efficiency is increased and labor shortage problems are resolved through optimal supply chains and automated fabrication.


UN SDG #1 and #2 refer to “No Poverty” and “Zero Hunger”, respectively, resonating the ethos that we are all in it together. The Promotion Headquarters for Sustainable Development Goals of Japan, chaired by the prime minister, formed the SDG Action Plan with the goal of realizing a prosperous and vibrant society while “leaving no one behind”, not only in Japan but also in the world. The three main pillars are identified in the SDGs Action Plan and include (1) promotion of Society 5.0 that corresponds to the SDGs, (2) regional vitalization driven by the SDGs, and (3) empowering the next generations and women.

Society 5.0

aims not only to promote the digital revolution

 but also to realize

a new knowledge society that is sustainable and leaves no one behind,

 from the perspective of human development.

Thus, there is great compatibility with and overlap between the concept of Society 5.0 and the UN SDGs because the goals take a general perspective of our future society, particularly, a human-centered society.


Nanotechnology and materials are expected to play important roles in the realization of Society 5.0.

Nanotechnology will drive the digital transformation by providing diverse nano-devices to be used in Society 5.0, such as

IoT sensors, autonomous driving vehicles, smart robots, and others.

Nanotechnology and materials are also expected to contribute to the realization of a sustainable society through ensuring water purification,

reducing CO2 emissions, and promoting material circulation with recycling approaches.

Nanotechnology and materials also support our health and well-being through wearable biosensors and biomaterials for regenerative medicine.

There are a number

of technical challenges in nanotechnology and materials, as well.

We identified six technical challenges in nanotechnology and materials for Society 5.0, as shown in Figure 4.

These challenges are

(1) IoT edge and AI chips and quantum devices to bring innovations in computing;

(2) transportation with high safety and low environmental impact;

(3) nanobiotechnology for health and medical care;

(4) service robots coexisting with and supporting people;

(5) smart materials to enable sustainability of water, air, and materials;

and (6) energy materials and devices to enable renewable energy production and energy saving.

Meeting these challenges will contribute technologically to the realization of Society 5.0.


Nanotechnology enables remote health and medical care for people living in rural regions, as shown in Figure 6. 

including renewable energy generation by solar cells, wind turbines, and fuel cells with green hydrogen. The development of technologies to generate hydrogen by solar energy and to utilize it as an energy carrier as well as battery technology development in energy transport and storage are important goals, and they depend on nanotechnology.


Today, we have reached the next phase, where nanotechnological tools and materials have significant potential to solve important societal challenges. In The Netherlands, the Nano4Society foundation brings together many academic and industrial partners as well as other relevant stakeholders. The aim is to develop solutions for challenges in the areas of healthcare, sustainability/energy, agriculture/food, and security.

If we look more closely at the major challenge areas listed above (i.e., health, energy, sustainability, and security/safety), we see that health holds great promise for rapid implementation with advances in and applications of nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology-based diagnostics, nanoparticle-based enhanced imaging, and nanoencapsulated drugs for targeted therapies are among the most well-developed health-related applications.

In the current coronavirus crisis, nanotechnology is playing major roles in the detection and sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus using microfluidic polymerase chain reaction chips, while both

the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines make use of lipid nanoparticles for nanodelivery.

Building on this breakthrough research, lipid nanoparticle encapsulation and delivery hold enormous promise for a broad range of targeted cancer treatments (e.g., gene therapies).

Beyond better and faster DNA sequencing and more efficient vaccine administration using nanotechnology, another driver is reducing costs to keep healthcare affordable and broadly accessible. These issues relate to the current expensive drug development processes, and as consequences of reactive, rather than preventative, healthcare systems.

Within the concept of P4 medicine (predictive, preventive, personalized, and participatory), nanotechnology can provide tools for disease prevention, early diagnoses (using a plethora of personalized baseline data), and personalized therapy.

Although disease prevention can save significant healthcare costs in the long term, relatively little is currently spent on prevention. Although hard to calculate precisely, increased preventative measures in the United States have decreased the percentage of adults needing one or more emergency room visits from 21.4% in 2010 to 18.6% in 2017.

With so-called “digital twins”, all medical information on live patients is stored in a virtual Avatar and fed a wide variety of information — medical images, genetics, and information generated by (nano)sensor arrays (such as wearables, ingestible and insidables, or even human physiology-mimicking models, a.k.a. organs-on-chips) — that facilitates the development and assessment of personalized therapies/medicines.

With the use of AI, optimized care and advice can be given to each individual citizen to avoid health risks and to prevent or even to cure diseases.

Other important challenges are found in energy.

We need to mitigate or ideally to reverse global climate change caused by anthropogenetic CO2 emissions resulting from our fossil-fuel-fed society.

Electrification, which moves toward a more circular society is one part of the solution. It leads to urgent needs for new nanotechnologies and nanomaterials for better solar cells, batteries, electrolyzers, and the fuel cell components that are needed to give hydrogen a proper role in the future global energy system. As an example, Li-ion batteries are the most popular rechargeable batteries today and have become the main power source not only for quotidian needs such as portable electronic devices but also for many applications that will become paramount in Society 5.0.

None of the current rechargeable batteries can meet all the challenging requirements for our current energy-storage needs, so the race is on to develop next generation Li-based systems that encapsulate the desired characteristics of high energy density, low cost, and improved safety.

Success in this arena would have tremendous impact on a wide range of technologies ranging from EVs (land and marine), to drones, airplanes, robots, and grid-scale energy storage.

The use of nanotechnology — which has progressed tremendously and continues to establish new ground — is vital to address the significant challenges that next-generation batteries present.

Sustainability is also an important driver for the agriculture/ food sector, which needs to feed an ever-growing world population, and must do so in such a way that production is optimized (e.g., vertical agriculture), and food production in industry leads to healthy and nutritious food. Today’s food production systems can benefit greatly from nanotechnology-based sensing tools that will help control, for example, mineral supplies on the land, thereby increasing yield. In addition, heat treatments can be applied to lead to safe and tasty products and even as part of the food packaging process to prevent food waste.

In general, CO2 production, water usage, and waste need to be reduced, and smart methods based on nanotechnology are required to do so.

Security (protection from intentional, human-caused harm) and safety (protection from nonintentional harm or failure) are domains that also benefit from nanotechnology developments. For example, in the area of quantum computing and communication, there is a tantalizing promise of unbreakable encoded and eavesdropping-resistant communications, based upon nanotechnology-enabled devices. New and improved nanotechnologies are needed to realize stable qubits, whether they are based on photons, nuclear spins, electron spins, or topology. Alternatively, complex nanostructured media can be used for the easy and rapid encryption and decryption of information in practically unbreakable ways (Figure 11).

Quantum-Secure Authentication WHO IS STEVE KIRSCH? – by OUTRAGED HUMAN ( —


Back to the article:

Nano Focus ACS Nano 2021, 15, 18608−18623 18616 complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technologies, the most advanced photolithography is required, for which continuously improving nanotechnologies are needed, such as atomic-layer-epitaxy-based multilayer mirrors (Figure 12).

For safety, aspects such as early detection of spreading viruses using nanosensors, automotive sensors, and environmental sensors all require improved nanotechnologies and nanomaterials.

The European Green Deal (GD)56 defines the Commission’s commitment to tackling climate change and environment-related challenges, setting ambitious goals such as zero pollution approaches for a toxin-free environment.

I have to stop here:

“toxin-free environment”????????????? THIS IS A JOKE!

Anyway, the whole thing is a kind of tragic joke and a great impudence….

Back to the article:

Nanotechnology is critical to reaching some of the transitions and goals of the European GD, such as its roles in solar and battery technologies.

However, the adequacy of safety regulations for nanotechnology remains under debate.

Innovation policies have focused more on promoting technology development and have lacked simultaneous, proportionate pushes for appropriate risk governance. This imbalance has resulted in ongoing uncertainty about the safety of production processes, products, and waste handling. The lack of a synchronized approach has led to risk governance that increasingly lags behind innovation.

Further research on the risks associated with nanotechnology and nanomaterials and their impacts on health and safety and the environment is required to support risk identification processes, assessment, and management. Systematic review methods and evidence integration methods utilizing machine learning and new approach methodologies regarding toxicity and exposure profiles of material, products, and processes are needed.

New unintended consequences and hazards are inevitable, and sensitivity to them, and to the voices and knowledge of stakeholders potentially impacted by them, is therefore paramount. The earlier this sensitivity is attended to and operationalized, the better. We argue that this action requires life cycle thinking — consideration of economic, environmental, and social concerns across all stages of nanotechnology design and implementation.





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