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March 14, 2007

Nanotechnology Update: U.S., Europe, Japan Lead the Way; China Moving Up

Does the future of computing lie in nanotechnology? It’s always possible. There is an ongoing trend, after all, for computers to get smaller and smaller, cramming increasing performance power and storage into smaller physical footprints.

Nanotechnology, which Wikipedia defines as “the control of matter on a scale smaller than 100 nanometers, as well as the fabrication of devices on this same length scale,” has very broad applications, spanning a myriad of disciplines including colloidal science, chemistry, applied physics, materials science, and mechanical/electrical engineering.
Just how much interest has nanotech gained globally? Research and consultancy firm RNCOS in a recent study—citing data from a British analyst—said that worldwide funding for nanotech research in 2004 reached $8.6 billion, and this number continues to grow. A more recent report from Lux Research put the 2006 figure for worldwide nanotech research and development at $12.4 billion, with more than $50 billion worth of nano-enabled products sold.
Nanotechnology and nanoscience are disciplines that require companies to take a global approach, Lux Research advised in its report. This means changing practices to take advantages of international funding, innovation, manufacturing, and markets.
As nanotechnology takes off, though, the manner in which different countries approach the discipline may have major effects on the rate and success of R&D efforts. Top countries today, Lux said, are the U.S., Japan, Germany and South Korea, with China moving in. In terms of nanoscience research publications, RNCOS ranked the top three countries as being the U.S., Japan, and China.
Knowing where nanotech developments are strongest is key for companies investing in the field, Lux analyst Michael Holman said.
“It’s important for them to understand which nations are strong in nanotechnology development,” Holman said in a statement, referring to companies interested in nanotech. “Our latest study found that the U.S., Japan, Germany and South Korea remain leaders, but China is moving into the top tier on nanotech activity as its nanotechnology spending, publications and even patents grow.”
China—which ranks RNCOS ranks #2 for sub-field nanomaterials—often seems to come up when high-tech topics are mentioned. It’s part of the Asian region, after all, where many of the latest mobile phone innovations are first launched (before making their way to Europe and the U.S.).
Nanotechnology/nanoscience, RNCOS reported, is of great interest to China. The government there is making some major investments in nano, apparently in response to its potential to revolutionize such diverse industries as nerve and tissue repair, pharmaceuticals, IT, catalysts, surface coatings, pollution control, and sensors.
Yet, the inflexible institutional system established in China may prove a stumbling block for long-term progress of nantech/science, both within that country and elsewhere. RNCOS in its reported cautioned that nanoscientists in China are under certain pressures—such as to yield results quickly—that may result in ethical shortcuts.
“Critics argue that human rights are not sufficiently respected in China, leading to skeptical research practices,” RNCOS said.
Yet, China is forging ahead with nanoscience and nanotech project, despite concerns from the international community, and now poses strong competition for the U.S. and Europe.
When it comes to nano, just where is the money and effort being directed? RNCOS in its report listed the various areas of the field and where they stand, numbers-wise, as shown below.
Market size in 2005 exceeded $1, 827 million; projected to reach $4,219 million by 2010.
30.94 percent compound annual growth rate projected from 2006 to 2010, reaching a market size of $20.40 billion by that year.
Textiles using nanotechnology
Market will top $13.6 billion in 2007. 2012 projection is $115 billion.
U.S. nanotechnology
30 percent increase projected through 2008, reaching $900 million; expected to triple to $2.7 billion by 2013.
Globally, RNCOS said, the nanotechnology investment market is divided between the U.S. (28 percent), Japan (24 percent), Western European countries (25 percent collectively), and other regions including China, South Korea, Canada and Australia, which make the remainder of the market.
Lux noted in its report that beyond the raw numbers of money spent on nanotech R&D, another important factor is purchasing power parity (PPP) for the various nations discussed here. PPP corrects for the lower costs of goods and services in some countries.
For example, Lux said, pure government spending on nanotech in 2006 was $1.78 billion in the U.S, $975 million in Japan and $563 million in Germany. But when PPP is factored in, China ranks in second place with funding equivalent to $906 million.
China is making a strong showing, Lux said in its report, but it still has some way to go.
“It’s clear that leading nations in nanotech, particularly the U.S and Japan, aren’t going to be pushed aside any time soon,” Holman said in a statement. “They will have more competition at the top, however.”
Holman stressed this point, uncovered by Lux during the course of its research: “It was striking that even within the top tier, countries like South Korea grew much closer to the U.S. and Japan, and developing countries like China, India and Russia made strong moves forward just in the last year.”
Mae Kowalke previously wrote for Cleveland Magazine in Ohio and The Burlington Free Press in Vermont. To see more of her articles, please visit Mae Kowalke’s columnist page. Also check out her Wireless Mobility blog.


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