Understanding Emerging Technologies for Business Actors


Nature and environment are exhausted from macro policies that endorse overflow of population to boost economic growth. Nanotechnology allows a different kind of growth, one that finds sustainable solutions to address modern life issues and to revise past faulty behaviour.  Nanotechnology created momentum to address constraints for future growth free from over consumption and over consummation – by creating world of opportunities at the bottom, new competitive advantages, and fresh markets. These new opportunities translate into a road map that directs us to move away from high carbon emission energy into gradual maturation of businesses fuelled by clean technologies.


Today’s most pressing issues to deal with are ageing population, care taking, pandemics and most difficult task of maintaining security, all find sustainable solutions with nanotechnogies and nano-engineered materials. These are innovative ways to improve our way of life with fewer resources and equally less pollution.


How care is handled is one other important societal issue. Big questions about who is going to pay and where the work force is coming from in an ageing population, for caring, sensing, rapid access to information, etc all find smart solutions.   Controlled molecular self-assembly are installed in sensors, metrology devices, and quantum computing. These are alternatives to traditional ways of caring, mobility and communication with an ageing and often technology avert population. Possibilities are endless, examples are chip based sensors for remote caring and undisturbed monitoring, ease of use, with rapid response and much lower cost. Caring devices with familiar shapes are mounted on mobile phones or carried by elderly with minimum visibility.


Nevertheless, efficient use of energy is most compelling driver of nanotechnologies, creating atomically functional nanosystems, smart materials, instrumentation, catalysts, etc.  Fuel cell technology is benefiting from possibilities afforded by thin film techniques. Telecommunication and IT that are in themselves consuming 2% of the world’s energy are other targets for optimized activities and have replaced traditional ways of moving of materials and persons.  Concerns over energy and environmental degradation find answers with  disruptive technologies. It is widely accepted that non-carbon based technology development is forthcoming, just as we shifted from coal to oil. New green production system has to be regulated, but only to the level not to bring dead lock to the development of green technology.


To address security issues, nanotechnology based applications have exploited new ideas by imaging in terahertz domain[1], the type of radiation that is capable of travelling through opaque materials in ambient condition. [2] Below surface of objects are easily visualised without the need for unpacking or any othe rtime consuming investigation, by terahertz sensing technique combined with surface plasmon polaritons that make use of pulsed terahertz radiation[3] and [4].


In order for disruptive technologies to enter market, government support and financial stimulation to overcome initial resistance to change are essential. There is greater role defined for investors with renewable energies reaching competitive thresholds through carbon tax or labelling. The business community who have invested in fossil fuel economy are now main investors of alternative energy such as hydrogen or solar energies  as they explore the potential and take advantage of new market opportunities. These new markets have equally engaged other actors who pursue public benefit to do good for their community through innovative businesses.


Monitoring environmental pollution is one key factor for nanotechnologies capable of detecting minute changes, with growing interest over ecological footprinting. Photonics and plastic electronics technologies[5] are sustainable solutions for reducing energy consumption and accurately measuring pollutive species, and carbon dioxide emission from diverse sources.


Range of recyclable, thin, light packaging materials for food and pharmaceutical packaging bring material use to the minimum. They use arrays of nanocoating with high detection sensitivity that allows rapid identification of contaminants. Trade, transportation, insurance are areas that are revolutionized by smart packaging.


Nano-enable functionality are already applied for range of needs in food, such as improving antimicrobial performance, prolonged shelf life and facilitate recycling. Future needs are largely unexplored in food areas.


At present nearly a third of the world’s energy consumption and 36 per cent of CO2 emissions are attributable to manufacturing industries.[6] New form of manufacturing that focus on bottom-up, and atomic precision production system will eventually replace top down approach and are growing fast. Nanotechnology and nanomaterials used in technological innovations offer range of best practices in control for hazard materials by-products of industries with adverse impacts on the environment.


Carbon dioxide activation, capture, storage and conversion into chemicals for use in industry and development of alternative energy are benefiting from catalytic properties of nanomaterials that result in decrease of carbon loading in atmosphere. Carbon capture made possible in the process of capturing carbon under mild conditions and conversion of (CO2) to methanol for use as fuel or in industry.[7]


In water industry nanofiltration membranes manufactured with new nanostructured materials proved highly efficient, and practical. Recent production of nanocomposites of polymer and inorganic materials allowed for control over the materials’ pore size, selectivity, and other physical characteristics. The chemical processes that occur within the pores upon contact with contaminants are controlled as well.


Enzymatic properties such as hydrogenase to convert energies are under investigation as alternatives. Studies show that catalytic properties of nanomaterials with control over shapes and sizes at nanoscale outperform conventional catalysts to a great extent. They are used for higher efficiency in chemistry, and energy production in various forms of photocatalysis, reforming of bio-fuels, cleaner catalytic combustion, etc. Range of electro catalysts are produced with high performance. Platinum nanowires, or nanocrystals doped with cobalt atoms show several order of magnitude enhancement of catalytic activity.


Batteries turned to  highly efficient devices through increase of capacity and revised transport properties. Lithium batteries use silicon nanowires with ability for higher storage of lithium that increase energy density on the anode while reducing battery size and weight.


Range of molecular electronic materials MEMs are used in products such as Laser, display, datacomm, telecomm, solar cell, FET, photodiode, amplifier, and lighting with applications in panels, lamps, wallpaper, blinds, curtains, window panes, workspace screens, safety clothing, and in areas less common like photodynamic therapy. Manipulations of functional metal oxide nanomaterials, such as titanium dioxide TiO2, molybdenum trioxide MoO3 and tungsten trioxide WO3 have wide applications in sensors.


The use of engineered nanoparticles such as quantum-dots in fabrication of light bulbs, light emitting diodes LEDs, using UV illuminated nanocrystals has increased their lifetime as much as 15 years. Currently used light bulbs only convert approximately 5% of the electrical energy into light. Most recent LED bulbs are fabricated to wirelessly stream sounds from the computer or CD player. Lithium ion batteries and fuel cells are produced much cheaper with higher performance.


New ideas are worked out for manufacturing Biomimetic waterproof clothing, whilst the outer layer consists of simple but effective windproof polyester the lining is where all the biomimetic magic are stored.


Micro contact printing, stamps and inks made by polymer composites of nanomaterials such as synthetic polymers, dendrimers, proteins and DNA,  attached covalently on reactive surfaces are developed resulting in hydrophilic/ hydrophobic patterns that have increased applications in surface coatings for electronic and biotechnological applications such as, thin film transistors, light emitting devices LEDs, MEMs, biosensors, microarrays  solar cells, etc.[8]


At present solar cells can convert around 20% of energy of sun light with gradual improvement of efficiency. Photovoltaics are fabricated using IT expertise in chip manufacturing and thin film technology and depositing layers of nano materials with unprecedented capacity to convert sunlight into electricity.
















Never underestimate how little he understands about Technologies


(Fiona Reid, What Venture Capitalists look for..Top five criteria; Oxford Univ)







The idea to create incentives for developing businesses that are sensitive to environment and nature is fascinating. Manufacturers in far away places are motivated to step in the direction of clean techniques, rushing to become next green hope only because they understood this is what their customers in the other side of the world are after. Large manufacturers in developing countries who may not be aware of environmental issues are competing fiercely with each other to get LEED certification only to increase marketability and improve their market share.


Nanotechnology is recognised as a stepping stone to strengthen up advantages of developed economies having to deal with scarce resources, and fierce competitions. Nevertheless their development demand dynamic adaptable SMEs around every discipline to sustain technological competitiveness. Nanotechnology has the potential to shift economic power through SMEs. The story of Intel chips market entry that successfully competed with much sophisticated Motorola chips only because of market readiness is good example. Entering into market at the right time was the key, at a time when IBM was not prepared, and in need of innovation in PC market.


University spin-offs are perfect examples of adaptive SMEs. UK government investment in university start ups showed higher return compared to other investment options such as housing, etc.  The £60m University Challenge Fund for universities in 2000, created 378 spin out companies out of total investment in 835 lab projects. The scheme was marked to have outperformed other government initiatives, while creating jobs for additional 1,985 people.[9] Although, research study indicates that “7 out of10 small businesses seek advice but only 1/10 satisfied with service from government-funded programmes.”(FSB ‘Barriers to Survival & Growth’ report)


Following the announcement from the Dept of Industry, Universities and Skills DIUS, to allocate £ 1 billion fund available for developing R&D programmes Nanoscience, strengthen its authority and control over market. In the period between 1997-2005 world wide investment in nanotechnogies R&D programmes have increased more than 10 folds from 432 to 4.2 billion dollars. In 2006 alone global government spending on nanotechnologies increased to over 6 billion dollars. Other initiatives from corporations are in addition to this account. Europe in the FP7 maintains its outstanding role in development of nanotechnology programmes.


Similarly in the US increasing investment in R&D by the government showed a rising budget-curve from $ 270 m in 2001 to $ 1.4 billion in grant for nanotech research projects in 2008. More than 1500 companies were numbered to be involved in producing nanomaterials with an annual growth rate of 25%, which was accounted over $ 40 Billions (Roco 2007). The global market for nanotechnology-products reached to $147 billion in 2007. Veeco one of the major producers of metrology devices, Atomic Force Microscopy, announced 10,000 installation of this type of instrument (Veeco May 2010). Elsewhere, EU investment summed up to $ 1.6 billion for the year 2008.


Nanotechnology disruptive impact on industry is much broader compared to previous industrial change scenarios, as they touch across range of industries. DTI has predicted that manufactured products using nanomaterials are to reach $ 2.6 trillion by 2014. Economic forecast is that Nanotechnologies create 2 million jobs for the skilled labour by 2015.


The industrial landscape is changing rapidly by growing number of research orgs, universities and firms engaged in nanotechnology. In the US over 1200 universities are offering educational curriculum.  Multidisciplinary education is key factor in harnessing the potentials of novel technologies in all areas.  Industries are suffering from shortages of skilled researchers, which should raise awareness among policy makers and educational institutions that training skilled researcher is crucial. [10]


To this end, universities should turn creative and adaptable in preparing new training and incentive systems for new generation of nanotechnologists. There is a lot to learn from history and our past experiences. In 1964-7, determination of three X-ray crystal structures was sufficient to obtain a PhD from Oxford University. Today, three crystal structures are registered every single day. (Amber Thompson, Oxford)


The priority is in preparation and training the work force required for exploiting the fresh opportunities, at this critical time of global economic changes, when new rules and regulations taking shapes. Unpredicted consequences are managed, risks are quantified, and monopolies are formed by patents to safeguard innovation, and incentivise scientists.






Social implications of technology-change have been unpredictable throughout the history.  Social impacts of emerging technologies are much broader, far-reaching, and rapidly changing. They go far beyond business, government, environment, health, and ethics. Emerging technologies induce interactions among apparently unrelated technologies creating cascade of technological development.  Great importance has been given to inclusion of social impacts into the training curriculum of nanotechnologists, new researchers and new business actors.


Understanding the risks and benefits of disruptive technologies will not look like anything to the previous technology assessments. This requires greater participation and information exchange with the public. Preparing for the societal impacts to better influence the implications of technology changes has high priority for business development. When laser was first invented it was described as a death ray, but today laser is part of our daily life in optical fibres, dental repairs, printing documents, read and write DVDs, cut metal and tools, etc.


Research results are clear evidence that materials’ quality at nanoscale improve and devices show higher efficiency and performance than the equivalent products. While their applications have to be materialized in real time and out of laboratories. If novel-technologies are not applied in the real scenario, unexpected benefits and risks remain unknown. Structural and phase properties of nanowires are measured by experimental techniques, yet theoretical investigations are still unknown.


Technological innovations can not be materialized without in-situ applications and secure funds for prototyping and pilot projects on smaller scale. This is crucial to provide information for adaptation and appropriate time for assessing unexpected consequences.  UK financial sector has to insist on encouraging strategic alliance between businesses, academia and technologists to support UK’s innovation and competitiveness.


Policy makers have to deal with emerging uncertainties due to increased information and knowledge, but also increasing risks and governance challenges. A firm and responsible role should follow policy dialogues that explain “uncertainties” to the public and pressure groups. Increasing unexpected consequences have to be translated to public for informed policy making.


Technology assessment and accounting of nano-fabrication has to deal with arrays of factors to assess value creation of nanotechnogies. Evaluation generates foresight and useful information that facilitates decision making for cost effective products. Nonetheless, broader engagements and education are required to harness added value of technology potentials. There are disagreements over evaluation of products using nanomaterials over bringing into the account the final product or only nanomaterials used in fabrication. Despite the uncertainty around evaluation of products, analysts all agree on one thing; that growth of the nanotechnology industry will be high, it is estimated to grow over 10-25 percent per annum – this is a growth scale which is hard to hold back by uncertainty.


Although, development of emerging technologies takes much longer and costs 10 times of research costs,[11] but it is clear that the time for investment is now before areas rip for advancement are seized and competitive edges are crossed. Indicators [12] show that Nanotechnology found its momentum. The momentum is certainly there for ideas and research results to become a reality, waiting in laboratories for commercialization.[13]





Nasrin Azad-McGuire









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Early investments resources:









[1]          Tonouchi M, Cutting edge terahertz technology, Nature Photonics Vol 1, issue 97, pp 105 (2007)


[2]          Baker C, T Lo, WR Tribe, BE Cole, MK Hogbin, MC Kemp, Detection of concealed explosives at a distance using terahertz technology, Proc. IEEE, Vol 95, pp 1559 (2007)


[3]          Davies AG, Burnett AD, Fan WH, Linfield EH, Cunningham JE, Terahertz spectroscopy of explosives and drugs, Materials Today, Vol 11, pp 18-26 (2008)


[4]          Johnston Michael, Plasmonics: Superfocusing of Terahertz Waves, Nature Photonics, Vol 1, pp 14-15, (Jan 2007)


[6]             International Energy Agency 2007, Tracking Industrial Energy Efficiency and CO2 Emissions. http://www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/tracking2007SUM.pdf

[7]             A. E. Ashley, A.L. Thompson, D.M.OHare, ‘Non-Metal-Mediated Homogeneous Hydrogenation of CO2 to CH3OH’ Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2009, 48, 1 – 6

[8]          T. Granlund, T. Nyberg, L. S. Roman, M. Svensson and O. Ingan€as, Adv. Mater., 2000, 12, 269–273

Tobias Kaufmann and Bart Jan Ravoo, Stamps, inks and substrates: polymers in microcontact printing, Polymer Chemistry, RSC publishing, 2010, 1, 371–387


[9]          Richard Tyler, University spin out fund proves a hit with scientists, Telegraph, 21 Dec 2009.


[11]       Dobson P, Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, Oxford University, 2009

[13]       Moving from the R word, Busines and society, The Magazine of Said Business School, issue 16, page 14-15, winter 2009



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