Home > Nanotechnology Columns > UAlbany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering > The other side of the market
Scientists and engineers have been successful breaking through the technical barriers affecting the supply of nanotechnology enabled products. Efforts must also be dedicated to overcoming the barriers to demand for nanotechnology. The College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering is working to overcome barriers to demand. Surveys indicate that consumers are uninformed about nanotechnology and are concerned about the potential health and environmental impacts. Outreach programs at the CNSE play an important role in educating consumers about nanotechnology to help them make informed decisions. In addition, research programs and collaborations housed at the CNSE circumvent potential barriers by focusing on the development of nanotechnology solutions for which there is existing demand.
June 30th, 2008
The other side of the market
The other side of the market…
The market for emerging nanotechnologies has grown exponentially over the past decade. In 2005, over $32 billion in nanotechnology products were sold and the number is expected to grow to $2.6 trillion by 2014. (1) Nanotechnology will be incorporated in approximately 15% of all goods produced in the manufacturing sector worldwide. The market for nanotechnology, like all other markets, has two forces to consider: the nanotech products supplied by firms and the consumer demand for these cutting edge goods.
Market analysis has found significant growth in the supply of nanotechnology products. Industries such as semiconductor manufacturing have been producing at the micro and nanoscale for well over a decade. In addition, markets for nanoenabled products have grown in recent years. Nanotechnology has been used to introduce incremental improvements in existing products such as paint, sunscreen, clothing, and sporting goods.
These developments have been enabled by the growth in the supply of nanoknowledge. A major indicator of the supply of nanotechnology research is federal funding.
The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) began in 2001 with a budget of $464 and was expanded to $1.5 billion in 2008. Between 1980 and 2006, the number of nanotechnology related publications as grown at a rate of 36% a year.(2) Over the same period, the average annual growth rate of worldwide nanotechnology patents has been 19%. (3)
R&D spending in nanotechnology is leading to exponential growth in nanotechnology know-how which in turn leads to the introduction of nanotechnology products. Recently the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) announced that new products were hitting the market at a rate of 3-4 a week. (4) As more money is dedicated to R&D, we should expect to see continued growth in supply in the market for nanotechnology.
Significantly less effort has been dedicated to understanding the consumer demand for cutting edge nanotechnology products. There is no doubt consumers have appreciated the benefits of nanotechnology available through their faster computers, email enabled cell phones, and stain resistant khakis. As nanotechnology continues to seep into the marketplace through the modification of existing products and the development of new goods, public perception will become increasingly important.
Relatively few studies have examined public opinions of nanotechnologies. Below are some findings from surveys of public attitudes:
Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat (2005)
• 23% of respondents are not very familiar with nanotechnology.
• 35% are not at all familiar with nanotechnology
Informed Public Perceptions of Nanotechnology and Trust in Government (2005)
• 80% of survey respondents claimed to know nothing or little about nanotechnology.
• 21% of respondents had an initially positive attitude towards nanotechnology.
National Science Foundation's Science and Engineering Indicators (2008)
• 57% of people surveyed knew that nanotechnology involves manipulating extremely small units of matter, such as individual atoms, in order to produce better materials.
• 39% of respondents knew the properties of nanoscale materials often differed from the properties of the same materials at larger scales.
These findings suggest that the public is unfamiliar with nanotechnology. Unfamiliarity leads to negative or neutral attitudes towards new technologies. This can be a serious hurdle to the diffusion into the marketplace.
Press coverage is also a good indicator of public perception of nanotechnologies. A search of the National Newspaper Index database found six articles on nanotechnology published in 2008. Four of the six articles questioned the safety of nanoparticles and materials. A similar search of LexisNexis Academic found that 39% of the 108 articles printed in newspapers, magazines, and journals in 2008 broached safety concerns associated with nanotechnology. Multiple mainstream media publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The Economist have all published articles in the past year about the safety implications of nanotechnology.
The most recent set of articles were spurred by an paper published in Nature Nanotechnology suggesting that carbon nanotubes could be as hazardous as asbestos if inhaled in sufficient quantities. The articles focused on the risks of the quickly expanding nanotechnology industry. The mainstream articles did not quote an interview by study author, Kenneth Donaldson, proclaiming the news as good. "Short curly carbon nanotubes did not behave like asbestos, and by knowing the possible dangers of long thin carbon nanotubes, we can work to control them…carbon nanotubes and their products could be made to be safe." (5)
Experts in nanotechnology understand the risks associated with advancements, but believe that they can be mitigated and in the end, benefits far outweigh the costs. These experts have the advantage of having studied the field for many years and the ability to make informed decisions. As shown in the studies above, consumers are not as comfortable with the concepts behind nanotechnology. This uncertainty, when paired with extensive reporting of perceived risks in the media can be a substantial barrier to technology adoption.
Overcoming the Barriers to Consumer Demand
The CNSE has been taken two approaches to overcoming the barriers to nanotechnology demand. The first is to educate consumers about nanotechnology, its potential uses and the benefits. The second approach is to identify areas for which there is already a high demand and working with our partners to develop feasible solutions.
In a study conducted through the PEN, participants were surveyed regarding their initial attitudes about nanotechnology. They were questioned again after receiving information about nanotechnology and its potential uses. Prior to receiving information, 59% of the participants had neutral or positive attitudes towards nanotechnology. After receiving information, the number increased to 82%. Participants were also asked if the benefits received from nanotechnology would exceed the risks. Prior to receiving information, 29% of participants believed the net benefits would be greater than or equal to zero. Afterwards, 41% believed that benefits would exceed risks and 30% believed risks and benefits would be equal. After receiving minimal information, the number of people who believed that nanotechnology would have a positive effect more than doubled.
Better educated consumers are able to make more informed decisions about benefits and risks. The CNSE is working to inform the public about the future of nanotechnology. Through outreach programs such NanoHigh and Nanocareer days, the CNSE has introduced nanotechnology to school children at many levels. In addition, onsite programs like Community Day and tours for civic groups reach people of all ages. Consumers interested in nanotechnology can learn through NanoNow, blogs such as this one, and media interviews with CNSE faculty and staff. Through CNSE's outreach programs, thousands of potential consumers are learning about what nanotechnology is, how it is being used, and the potential benefits and risks associated with the emerging technology.
Responding to Demand Pulls
Instead of using nanotechnology to create new products and generating demand for them, firms can focus nanotechnology to meet already existing demand. Innovation can be driven by the technology push, where new products are developed as a result of scientific or engineering discovery. New products can also be created in response to a demand pull. In this case, consumers are interested in a purchasing product that has not yet been introduced to the market and suppliers innovate in order to meet the demand.
There are currently strong demand pulls for new solutions in the fields of energy, health care, and security. The CNSE is involved with research programs and collaborations in each of these areas. The goal is to accelerate the commercialization of nanotechnology enabled solutions that will meet existing consumer demand.
CNSE's Energy and Environmental Technology Applications Center (E2TAC) is working to help firms develop nanotechnology enabled products that will meet the quickly increasing demand for alternative energy solutions. E2TAC is involved with initiatives such as commercialization roadmaps for various energy technologies, including hydrogen and solar power. These roadmaps highlight opportunities, outline challenges and propose multi-year strategies to promote the widespread adoption of these technologies. CNSE researchers are working in areas such as photovoltaics and fuel cells to overcome technical challenges and reduce the time to market of in demand alternative energy solutions.
Costs are rising quickly in the health care industry. There is demand for diagnostic tools that improve accuracy and reduce the time investment of patients and medical professionals. Researchers at the CNSE have developed biosensors that can detect toxins and contaminants in a human body. The nanotechnology enabled testing will be faster, more comprehensive, and less invasive than traditional screening methods. The technology has the potential to meet the demand for more accurate diagnostic methods that will save consumers money, time and aggravation.
The US military demands new technologies that will assist soldiers and improve safety on the battlefield. Last month the CNSE in partnership with the Army Research Laboratory established the National Nanotechnology Innovation & Commercialization (NNICC) with the purpose of accelerating the development and commercialization of nanotechnology-enabled sensors.
Through NNICC, scientists from ARL and CNSE will conduct joint research targeting development of a variety of next-generation devices, structures and systems enabled by nanotechnology: "sensor-on-a-chip" systems for anti-terrorism and "soldier-in-the-field" remote sensing; lighter but stronger nanomaterial coatings that offer protection against chemical, thermal and environmental conditions; and, sensor networks and power electronic devices that provide multi-functionality while operating at low power. The nanoenabled technologies also have the potential to be commercialized for nondefense applications.
Scientists and engineers have been successful breaking through the technical barriers affecting the supply of nanotechnology enabled products. Efforts must also be dedicated to overcoming the barriers to demand for nanotechnology. The CNSE is working to overcome barriers to demand. Surveys indicate that consumers are uninformed about nanotechnology and are concerned about the potential health and environmental impacts. Outreach programs at the CNSE play an important role in educating consumers about nanotechnology to help them make informed decisions. In addition, research programs and collaborations housed at the CNSE circumvent potential barriers by focusing on the development of nanotechnology solutions for which there is existing demand.
1. Lux Research, The Nanotech Report 4th Edition
2. Data source: Science Citation Index
3. Data source: Chen, H., Roco, M., Li, X., and Lin, Y. (2008)
4. Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. New Nanotech Products Hitting the Market at the Rate of
3-4 Per Week. April 24, 2008. Available at www.nanotechproject.org /news/archive/6697/
5. Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. Carbon nanotubes that look like asbestos, behave like asbestos. May 20, 2008. Press Release 36-08. Available at http://www.nanotechproject.org/process/assets/files/6700/mwcnt.pdf