Impacts of a Silver-Coated Future

Particle Flow Analysis of Silver Nanoparticles


Rickard Arvidsson
Environmental Systems Analysis, Energy and Environment
Chalmers University of Technology
Rännvägen 6
412 96 Gothenburg


Silver is a compound that is well known for its adverse environmental effects. More recently, silver in the form of silver nanoparticles (Ag NPs) has begun to be produced in increasingly larger amounts for antibacterial purposes in, for instance, textiles, wound dressings, and cosmetics. Several authors have highlighted the potential environmental impact of these NPs. To contribute to a risk assessment of Ag NPs, we apply a suggested method named “particle flow analysis” to estimating current emissions from society to the environment. In addition, we set up explorative scenarios to account for potential technology diffusion of selected Ag NP applications. The results are uncertain and need to be refined, but they indicate that emissions from all applications included may increase significantly in the future. Ag NPs in textiles and electronic circuitry may increase more than in wound dressings due to the limited consumption of wound dressings. Due to the dissipative nature of Ag NPs in textiles, the results indicate that they may cause the highest emissions in the future, thus partly confirming the woes of both scientists and environmental organizations. Gaps in current knowledge are identified. In particular, the fate of Ag NPs during different waste-handling processes is outlined as an area that requires more research.