At a July 2013 forum, participants from industry, government, and academia discussed the future of nanomanufacturing; investments in nanotechnology R&D and challenges to U.S. competitiveness; ways to enhance U.S. competitiveness; and EHS concerns.
The forum's participants described nanomanufacturing as a future megatrend that will potentially match or surpass the digital revolution's effect on society and the economy. They anticipated further scientific breakthroughs that will fuel new engineering developments; continued movement into the manufacturing sector; and more intense international competition.
Although limited data on international investments made comparisons difficult, participants viewed the U.S. as likely leading in nanotechnology research and development (R&D) today. At the same time, they identified several challenges to U.S. competitiveness in nanomanufacturing, such as inadequate U.S. participation and leadership in international standard setting; the lack of a national vision for a U.S. nanomanufacturing capability; some competitor nations' aggressive actions and potential investments; and funding or investment gaps in the United States (illustrated in the figure, below), which may hamper U.S. innovators' attempts to transition nanotechnology from R&D to full-scale manufacturing.
Funding/Investment Gap in the Manufacturing-Innovation Process.
Participants outlined three approaches that might be viewed as alternative ways to address these challenges--or used together: (1) strengthen U.S. innovation by updating current innovation-related policies and programs, (2) promote U.S. innovation in manufacturing through public-private partnerships, and (3) design a strategy for attaining a holistic vision for U.S. nanomanufacturing. Participants who represented a range of perspectives on environmental, health, and safety (EHS) issues also noted that significant research is needed to understand the risks associated with nanomaterials. As such, multiple participants advocated a collaborative effort, in which nanotechnology stakeholders create an EHS framework, including developing standards for measurement and nomenclature, to help assess and address these risks.
Finally, participants advocated both maintaining R&D support and considering ways to address the challenges outlined above. Justification of further steps might be based on their potential for improving (1) international data on nanotechnology investments, (2) international standard setting for nanomanufacturing and U.S. participation, (3) U.S. ability to maintain or enhance competitiveness, and (4) U.S. and international efforts to address EHS issues.