The case for nanotechnology
Nanotechnologies, utilizing minute-sized matter, have raised hopes of revolutionary development in a wide range of technologies that will drastically change our way of life. It has high potential for devising sustainable solutions to variety of societal issues and unprecedented improvement to our living standards from water purification to energy consumption. Better healthcare, environment-friendly and general well-being can result when necessary measures are taken to enhance the viability of industrial scale applications. Manufacturing of higher performance products and services that are magical – like socks that never smell, glass that cleans itself, bandages that heal cuts, light-bulbs that last well over a decade.
World Economic Forum message was clear that innovation now is the matter of survival not just growth. Nanotechnologies and their bottom-up production systems, atom by atom, show great potential to address constraints of a mature economy. By creating a world of new opportunities, new competitive advantages, new markets, economic growth is no longer restricted by over consumption.
Concerns regarding an aging population and pensions, who is going to pay and where will the work force comes from, find workable solutions. Nanotech based devices meet the demands of an active retirement by facilitating independence and lifelong learning. Nanotechnologies can enhance traditional ways of moving, caring and communication with an ageing population.
Nanotechnology disruptive impact on industry is much broader than previous technology-change scenarios, as they touch across range of industries. These innovative technologies will clean up the unintended consequences of the first and second industrial revolutions. Efficient use of energy and targeted drug delivery are most compelling drivers of nanotechnologies corresponding to atomically functional nanosystems, energy production, smart materials, instrumentation, catalysis, etc.
ENDLESS NEW PRODUCTS
Endless new products are about to enter markets such as recyclable, thin, light packaging materials for use in food and pharmaceutical industry. They use arrays of nanocoating with high detection sensitivity that rapidly signal outdated products and identify contaminants.
Nano-enable functionality address range of needs in food such as improving antimicrobial performance prolonged shelf life and facilitating recyclables. Future needs are largely unexplored in food areas.
Tumor targeting nano delivery is about to revolutionize medical treatments and cure for cancer. Reduced dose of antibiotics is the result of targeted drug delivery. Biosensors allow rapid detection of biomolecule of interest in the body simply by monitoring electrons move.
Agriculture benefits from using less fertilizer with precision control over the amount of chemical released into the environment.
Catalytic properties of nanomaterials with extensive surfaces and control over shapes and sizes at nanoscale outperform conventional catalysts by several orders of magnitude. They are used for energy production as photocatalysis, reforming of bio-fuels, cleaner catalytic combustion, etc. Platinum nanowires and nanocrystals doped with cobalt atoms are among nanotechnologies already in the market.
Nano-reinforcement materials use unique properties of carbon nanotubes to fabricate multifunctional and smart cement based materials. Asphalt that mends itself use polymer that heal cracks and pothols are fabricated by incorporating a microencapsulating healing agent and a catalytic chemical trigger within an epoxy matrix. Rubberized asphalt meets the demand for durable road pavements. It prevents water into the lower layers with enhanced property in noise dampening.
Cars are produced needing less fuel covered with fully self-repairing paint and switchable colour, hydrogen fuel cells, solar power, wheel-mounted electric motors and inflatable organic body panels that combine mix organic material that generates small amounts of electricity. This coupled with hydrogen fuels generates power to drive the tiny electric motors mounted within the hubs of all four wheels.
Ultra-lightweight, bendable batteries and supercapacitors in the form of everyday paper are already in the market. Micro-structured self-cleaning solar cells are now integrated into sunroofs and are offered as options on some cars. Lithium batteries use silicon nanowires with much higher ability for storage of lithium.
Carbon dioxide activation, capture, storage and conversion into chemicals for use in industry benefit from higher catalytic properties of nanomaterials. Carbon capture is realized by conversion of (CO2) to methanol for use as fuel. At present nearly a third of the world’s energy is consumed by manufacturing industries. Nanotechnologies offer range of best practices in control for hazard materials by-products of industries.
In water industry nanofiltration membranes are manufactured with new nanostructured materials and nanocomposites of polymer and inorganic materials that allow for control over the materials’ pore size, selectivity and other physical characteristics, as well as the chemical processes that occur within the pores upon contact with contaminants.
A range of molecular electronic materials MEMs are used in products such as Laser, display, datacomm, telecomm, solar cell, photodiode, amplifier, and lighting that have applications in panels, lamps, wallpaper, blinds, curtains, window panes, safety clothing, and in areas such as 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 quantum-dots in fabrication of light emitting diodes LEDs, using UV illuminated nanocrystals has increased their lifetime to well over 15 years. Currently used light bulbs only convert approximately 5% of the electrical energy into light.
Photonics and plastic electronics technologies accurately measure pollutive species, and carbon dioxide emission from diverse sources.
In Biomimetic waterproof clothing whilst the outer layer consists of simple but effective windproof polyester the lining is where all the biomimetic magic happens.
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 result in hydrophilic/ hydrophobic patterns with applications in thin film transistors, light emitting devices LEDs, MEMs, biosensors, microarray solar cells, etc.
Telecommunication and IT that in themselves consume 2% of the world’s energy are also targeted for optimized activities, and myriad other examples …
NANOTECHNOLOGIES DRIVING ECONOMIC GROWTH
Nanotechnology firms are stepping stones to strengthen developed economies and productivity. Nevertheless development of innovative technologies demands dynamic adaptable small-medium enterprise SMEs around every discipline to sustain technological competitiveness. Nanotechnology has the potential to shift economic power through SMEs. University start-ups are good examples of adaptive SMEs led by innovative technologies.
A survey by UK government found that investment in university start-ups yield higher return than 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 laboratory projects. The scheme outperformed other government initiatives, while creating jobs for additional 1,985 people.
These disruptive technologies first create market niches by enabling customers to do things deem for experts. They slowly grow their market and eventually create new value propositions. This process of winning consumer confidence translates into a road map that directs moving away from old ways into gradual maturation of enterprises energized by innovation.
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 reached $ 1.6 billion in 2008. LUX Research and UK’s DTI have estimated that manufactured products using nanomaterials will reach $ 2.6 trillion by 2014.
Nevertheless, majority of nanomaterials are not final consumer products. They are mainly used by industries for fabrication of new products and in the process of innovation. In this context, manufacturers contribute greatly to the innovation system. Thus, it is advisable that policy makers direct their promotive plans and funds, in consultation with the academia, to industry and manufacturers of the future.
In the US increasing government investment in R&D 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 involved in producing nanomaterials with an annual growth rate of 25%, summing up to $ 40 Billions in 2007 (Roco). More than 1000 products are already in the market. Wilson Centre report of 2oo7 indicated that global market for nanotechnology-products reached $147 billion and growing fast.
Economic forecast is that Nanotechnologies create 2 million jobs for the skilled labour by 2015. In this context, industries are suffering from shortages of skilled workers, which are alarming policy makers and educational institutions. They need to prioritize plans to train skilled, inspired researchers and workforce. In 1964-7, formulating three X-ray crystal structures was sufficient to complete a doctoral degree at Oxford University. Today, three crystal structures are registered every single day. Universities are major ground for creative, collaborative and adaptable designs for new training and incentive systems.
As for Canada, study shows that the country ranks 12th way below UK, Sweden, US and others in Global Innovation Index Ranking. Government has to do more for innovation at such a critical time of global economic changes, when new rules and regulations taking shapes, risks quantified, and monopolies formed by new patents. Canada’s loss is irreversible.
There is a new role for the government as innovation requires large scale integrating projects covering much broader scope. An adaptive governance regime is required to address challenges as they arise, for fair distribution of new opportunities and putting new rules and regulations to work. Some argue that more regulations will block development of innovative technology. But historically, the leadership to enable a forward looking society at the time of fundamental technology change was the role of government. Disruptive technologies require government support and its financial stimulation, before they win hearts and minds.
Education, design, metrology and standardization of the new world require many more skilled workers, and new training schemes to create totally new industrial processes and products. But advanced products require informed users at the other end of the spectrum as well, to fashion willingness to change.
There is greater role for private investors in the horizon as well if they wish to benefit from high return in the near future. One important indication points out the oil industry that is among the main investors of alternative energies such as hydrogen or solar energies, taking advantage of new market opportunities. They understand that delays mean irreversible loss of market share to rivals.
Empires of the future are empires of the mind (Winston Churchill, 1946
PGC Nanotechnology (OXON)