The Impacts of Nanotechnology on Companies

The Impacts of Nanotechnology on Companies

Policy Insights from Case Studies You do not have access to this content

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26 Nov 2010
9789264094635 (PDF) ;9789264094628(print)

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Nanotechnology has its origin in the converging abilities of physics, chemistry and materials science.  Its purpose is the manipulation of atoms and molecules in order to create new properties of materials and systems for a wide variety of applications in a very broad range of sectors. Nanotechnology is forecast to create large markets and many new jobs and may be the springboard for industrial renewal and long-term growth. Governments around the world have targeted this emerging technology in their R&D investments and are strategising about the best ways to promote the responsible development and use of nanotechnology given the absence of any in-depth analysis of its commercialisation.

What are the potential economic impacts of nanotechnology, how are companies using nanotechnology for innovation, and what are the key challenges in its commercialisation? These are some of the issues that this book addresses, based on a large number of company case studies in several countries.

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  • Foreword
    Nanotechnology is an emerging field and is currently receiving a good deal of attention in most industrialised countries, as large policy initiatives and related R&D investments demonstrate. It enables the purposeful engineering of matter at very small length scales – at the level of atoms and molecules – and can therefore contribute to new industrial applications in a very broad range of sectors. The fundamental characteristics of nanotechnology have led analysts to suggest that it may constitute a basis for longterm productivity and economic growth. It may also help to address pressing national and global challenges in areas such as health care, energy, water and climate change. Traditional science and technology indicators highlight the broad-based nature of nanotechnology, while consultants forecast large markets and contributions to entrepreneurship and job creation. Nonetheless, there is inadequate reliable information in terms of the implications of nanotechnology for companies and business environments and how policies for innovation should respond.
  • Executive summary
    Nanotechnology is an emerging technology (or set of technologies) which is currently attracting wide-ranging attention. Almost no other field has obtained as much public investment in R&D in a such a short time, and private-sector investments have also increased steadily (there is as yet no reliable systematic data revealing how the economic crisis may have affected this). Consultancies predict very large markets for nanotechnologyenabled products, and forecasts suggest that many new jobs may be created. To describe the potential economic impact of nanotechnology, reference is often made to the concept of "general purpose technology", that is, a technology with a range of characteristics which makes it particularly well placed to generate longer-term productivity increases and economic growth across a range of industries. As a consequence, governments are developing strategies to promote the responsible development and use of nanotechnology while taking account of the uncertainties and any risks involved.
  • Introduction
    Owing to its inherent characteristics, nanotechnology may play an important role in upgrading traditional industries by enabling new functionalities and adding value to existing products. Nanotechnology can also enable more radical innovation and thus the growth of new companies and industries, especially if it converges with other technology fields such as biotechnology and ICT.
  • Insights from previous studies on nanotechnology developments and commercialisation
    This chapter reviews a selection of previous studies on nanotechnology developments and commercialisation as a backdrop for the company case studies. Publication and patent data highlight the interdisciplinary, science-based and market-driven, nature of nanotechnology. However, case studies and surveys also point to challenges that companies face, ranging from bottlenecks in funding, human resources and process scalability of R&D. Some of these challenges may be more severe for smaller companies that seek to enter established value chains, while larger companies can benefit from critical mass and complementary assets in R&D and related instrumentation. IPR issues and public perception of nanotechnology can also complicate the business environment.
  • Insights from the case studies on the impacts of nanotechnology on companies
    This chapter presents the background and findings of the company case studies, including methodological issues and limitations that have to be taken into account. The case study sample is relatively well balanced in terms of nanotechnology sub-areas and fields of application when compared with patenting. Companies highlight the enabling nature of nanotechnology as a main entry driver, even though its share of R&D investments, sales and employment are hard to quantify. The case studies also highlight some variation by company size in the sources of nanotechnology competences and in challenges for commercialisation. The challenges that appear specific to nanotechnology include the complexity of R&D and its poor process scalability, human resource constraints, and concerns about EHS issues. Challenges in the funding of R&D and innovation are also highlighted, although they may be common to start-up companies in science-based technologies in general.
  • Main findings, policy issues and implications
    This chapter summarises the main findings from the analysis of the company cases studies. It compares them with and elaborates on insights of previous studies. It also raises policy issues based on the findings and indicates implications for the future design and implementation of public-sector activities to promote the responsible development and use of nanotechnology.
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