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Posted: September 25, 2008
Top nanotechnology nations push ahead
(Nanowerk News) Governments and industries in nations around the world are investing billions of dollars, euros, yen, yuan and rubles to position themselves as leaders in the emerging enterprise called nanotechnology — science on the scale of atoms and molecules.
Each nation has a vision and strategy, and representatives from five of the top contenders — the United States, European Union, Japan, Russia and China — met September 23 during a panel on the first day of the three-day Nanotech Northern Europe 2008, where 800 participants from 44 countries are examining nanotechnology’s influence on health, electronics, energy, water, food, construction, safety and investment.
“Today there are lots of nanoproducts but they’re typically not revolutionary. They’re improvements on existing processes and products — better materials, better coatings, more efficient chemical processes,” said Richard Russell, associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and a conference speaker.
“All those things add to the bottom line for companies and provide society with benefits,” he said, “but I think many people are waiting for the revolutionary nanoproducts. Those are a little further out because we’re still spending time and effort characterizing nanomaterials. There’s still a lot of basic research to do.”
“Nanoscience” describes the ability to see, measure, manipulate and manufacture things on a scale of one to 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter; a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick.
At the nano scale, the physical, chemical and biological properties of materials differ in basic and valuable ways from bulk matter. Nanotechnology research and development are helping scientists and engineers understand and create materials, devices and systems that use these new properties.
Nanotechnology applications are being developed in nearly every industry, including electronics and magnetics, energy production and storage, information technology, materials development, transportation, and medicine and health. (See “Economic Development Organization Forms Nanotechnology Unit.”)
SCIENCE AND SAFETY
In 2007, nations and private industry around the world together spent $13.8 billion on nanotechnology. Of that total, the United States is among the top investors. Government spending on basic research in nanotechnology is $1.5 billion, up from $500 million in 2001, and private-sector investment in research and development is just over $3 billion.
About 5 percent of the U.S. investment is spent on research to determine the implications of nanotechnology on public health and safety and the environment. On September 18, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded $38 million to establish two Centers for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology. EPA contributed $5 million, the largest award for nanotechnology research in the agency's history.
The centers, led by the University of California-Los Angeles and Duke University, will build on NSF's Center for Biological and Environmental Technologies and EPA's Science to Achieve Results nanotechnology grants.
In Europe, two-thirds of nanotechnology funding comes from governments, the European Commission (EC) and member states, and one-third comes from the private sector, said Christos Tokamanis, head of the EC nanotechnology unit.
“The action plan has two main focus points,” he said. “One is competitiveness and the societal challenges we have to resolve and solve with nanotechnology, and the other is the responsible development of this emerging science.”
The EC developed and adopted in 2008 a code of conduct for nanoscience based on seven principles that cover issues like sustainability, precaution and accountability. It invites member states to take action to promote the safe development and use of nanotechnology among universities, research institutes and companies.
In the 2,500-year-old city of Suzhou, a 1.5-hour flight from Beijing, China’s central government is helping to fund and promote the International Nanotech Innovation Park, an aggressive effort to accelerate the growth of the nation’s nanotechnology industry. The park’s major organizations are BioBay, a technology incubator, and the Suzhou Nanotech and Nanobionics Institute.
BioBay General Manager Liu Yuwen said the park already has 14 nanotechnology start-up companies and expects its 200 employees to grow to 700 over the next several years. Scientific collaboration is important to the park’s growth, she said, and talks have been held with representatives from Russia, Finland, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong.
In Japan, according to Kazunobu Tanaka, a fellow at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, nanotechnology materials are among the nation’s four strategic priorities.
Public funding alone for the period 2006 to 2010 will be $824 million, focused on nanotechnology materials for energy, environment and resources; advanced research and development; research evaluation of manufactured nanoparticles; and an X-ray free electron laser, a facility that will open in 2010 to develop new nanotechnology materials.
For Russia, said Mikhail Kovalchuk, director of the Kurchatov Institute, nanotechnology is to become the basis of a “new technological culture that will completely change industrial policy and industrial economy. It will be new revolution.”
The government has allocated more than $2 billion, he said, for nanotechnology and biotechnology over the next six years. Through Rosnano, the Russian nanotechnology corporation, the goal is to set aside $6 billion to help the private sector commercialize developed nanotechnology.
Kovalchuk said Russia’s education and science infrastructure, which has weakened over the past 15 years, will make it easier to carry out the major overhaul that nanotechnology requires.
“In this case,” he said, “you must change completely the system of education in order to [stimulate] such new type of vision for scientists, and [undertake] many different changes in infrastructure.”