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Date of Award

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering–Engineering Mechanics (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics

First Advisor

John W Sutherland

Abstract

In recent years there has been a tremendous amount of research in the area of nanotechnology. History tells us that the commercialization of technologies will always be accompanied by both positive and negative effects for society and the environment. Products containing nanomaterials are already available in the market, and yet there is still not much information regarding the potential negative effects that these products may cause. The work presented in this dissertation describes a holistic approach to address different dimensions of nanotechnology sustainability.

Life cycle analysis (LCA) was used to study the potential usage of polyethylene filled with nanomaterials to manufacture automobile body panels. Results showed that the nanocomposite does not provide an environmental benefit over traditional steel panels. A new methodology based on design of experiments (DOE) techniques, coupled with LCA, was implemented to investigate the impact of inventory uncertainties. Results showed that data variability does not have a significant effect on the prediction of the environmental impacts. Material profiles for input materials did have a highly significant effect on the overall impact. Energy consumption and material characterization were identified as two mainstreams where additional research is needed in order to predict the overall impact of nanomaterials more effectively.

A study was undertaken to gain insights into the behavior of small particles in contact with a surface exposed to air flow to determine particle lift-off from the surface. A mapping strategy was implemented that allows for the identification of conditions for particle liftoff based on particle size and separation distance from the wall. Main results showed that particles smaller than 0:1mm will not become airborne under shear flow unless the separation distance is greater than 15 nm. Results may be used to minimize exposure to airborne materials.

Societal implications that may occur in the workplace were researched. This research task explored different topics including health, ethics, and worker perception with the aim of identifying the base knowledge available in the literature. Recommendations are given for different scenarios to describe how workers and employers could minimize the unwanted effects of nanotechnology production.

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