Nanocomposites can be considered safe during their life cycle as long as the nanofillers remain embedded in the matrix. Therefore, a possible release of nanofillers has to be assessed before commercialization. This report addresses possible life cycle release scenarios for carbon nanotubes (CNT), graphene, and carbon black (CB) from a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) matrix. The content of each nanofiller was adjusted to achieve the same conductivity level. The nanofillers reduced the rate of nanoscale releases during mechanical processing with decreasing release in the order neat TPU, TPU-CNT, TPU-graphene, and TPU-CB. Released fragments were dominated by the polymer matrix with embedded or surface-protruding nanofillers. During electron microscopy analysis, free CB was observed, however, there was no free CNT or graphene. Quantitatively, the presence of free nanofillers remained below the detection limit of <0.01% of generated dust. Further, both the production process and type of mechanical processing showed a significant impact with higher release rates for injection-molded compared to extruded and sanded compared to drilled materials. Due to its optimal performance for further development, extruded TPU-CNT was investigated in a combined, stepwise worst case scenario (mechanical processing after weathering). After weathering by simulated sunlight and rain, CNT were visible at the surface of the nanocomposite; after additional sanding, fragments showed protruding CNT, but free CNT were not detected. In summary, this preliminary exposure assessment showed no indication that recommended occupational exposure limits for carbonaceous nanomaterials can be exceeded during the life cycle of the specific TPU nanocomposites and conditions investigated in this study.
- Life cycle
- Nano-enabled products