Ensuring the safe and environmentally friendly commercialisation of graphene
An overview of the Health and Environment Work Package
The main objective of the Health and Environment Work Package is to evaluate the safety profile of graphene and related materials (GRMs) with regard to health and the environment in relation to their production, handling, manufacturing and use.
The last 10 years
The Health and Environment Work Package has been responsible for performing a series of in vitro and in vivo studies to prove the safety of GRMs use, identify possible risks and propose solutions for avoiding these risks. During the ramp-up phase of the project, we began to evaluate the impact of graphene oxide and few-layer graphene using several in vitro and in vivo models, including lung, kidney, gastrointestinal tract, skin, immune system, brain, plants, algae, and aquatic organisms. In Core 1, we expanded the studies on the assessment of the life cycle of GRMs and their (bio)degradability. During Core 2, we enlarged the toxicity studies to other layered materials and evaluated the impact of composites containing graphene that underwent a process of degradation, mimicking their aging, to understand possible risks related to their disposal. Finally, in Core 3 we addressed the issue of occupational health and hazards to workers in daily contact with these materials. Researchers evaluated the applicability of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines to GRMs in view of the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) and future commercialisation of graphene materials. We believe that this comprehensive evaluation of the impact of graphene and layered materials has been fundamental to the protection of human health and the environment as well as to the current and future commercial applications of these materials.
Our review article on health and safety of graphene-based materials published in 2018 and co-authored by all the partners in the Health and Environment Work Package scores in the top 1% of the academic field of Materials Science, according to the Web of Science. Other Graphene Flagship Work Packages and various companies have been interested in the results of these studies. For example, the University of Castilla-La Mancha, Spain, created with the spin-off company BioGraph Solutions in 2019 with the aim of producing graphene and 2D materials free of any type of contaminants and suitable for physiological media.
A study published in Nature Nanotechnology in 2022 shows that the gut microbiome needs to be taken into consideration when evaluating the impact of graphene and related materials, specifically graphene oxide (GO). Using zebrafish as a model, the researchers showed that GO modulates the composition of the gut microbiome. Furthermore, using germ-free zebrafish, the authors found that GO in combination with certain microbial metabolites triggered the induction of an innate immune response. This study has shown that GO can influence the crosstalk between the microbiome and immune system, thus opening a new horizon with respect to layered material-host interactions.
Additionally, a joint paper coordinated by Graphene Flagship Partner EMPA reported on the toxicological impact of reduced GO-reinforced composites.
- Peng, Guotao, et al. "Graphene oxide elicits microbiome-dependent type 2 immune responses via the aryl hydrocarbon receptor." Nature Nanotechnology 18.1 (2023): 42-48. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41565-022-01260-8
- Loret, Thomas, et al. "Innate but not adaptive immunity regulates lung recovery from chronic exposure to graphene oxide nanosheets." Advanced Science 9.11 (2022): 2104559. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/advs.202104559
- Chortarea, Savvina, et al. "Hazard assessment of abraded thermoplastic composites reinforced with reduced graphene oxide." Journal of Hazardous Materials 435 (2022): 129053. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304389422008421