Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Quote of the day

Today nanotechnology is still in a formative phase--not unlike the condition of computer science in the 1960s or biotechnology in the 1980s. Yet it is maturing rapidly. Between 1997 and 2005, investment in nanotech research and development by governments around the world soared from $432 million to about $4.1 billion, and corresponding industry investment exceeded that of governments by 2005. By 2015, products incorporating nanotech will contribute approximately $1 trillion to the global economy. About two million workers will be employed in nanotech industries, and three times that many will have supporting jobs.

~Mihail C. Roco, Senior adviser for nanotechnology to the National Science Foundation and a key architect of the National Nanotechnology Initiative link

(RR note: the $1 trillion figure is widely disputed)

Nanotubes, Pt. II

Nanotube-based materials…soon?

For the past decade we’ve been reading about the potential of carbon nanotubes for use in advanced materials (100X stronger than steel at 1/6th the weight…). Currently, they are used in a very small handful of products; not the widespread applications that were predicted in the recent past.

Major hurdles have included production scaling problems (and therefore cost), separation (each type of nanotube displays specific characteristics), and functionalization (necessary for medical uses). Another major hurdle has been, and remains, both the public perception and the actual risk associated with these vanishingly small materials; we just don’t know, yet, all the ways in which nanotubes may prove toxic.

In 2007 we may start to see nanotubes used in more and more diverse applications. However, this will only happen if the companies that make them are able to increase their production batches while at the same time deal with the separation and toxicity issues. Simply increasing the total amount of nanotubes produced will allow for their use in areas where weight and strength are the most highly sought attributes (think auto and space industries). This, of course, anticipates a subsequent reduction in cost as batch size increases; a not unreasonable expectation. So if we can deal with the toxicity issues we may, finally, be on the road to a nanotube-enabled advanced materials world.

Expect news of production ramp ups to be greeted with investor enthusiasm and news of toxicity problems to dampen that enthusiasm.