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March 29th, 2009

China's giant step into nanotech

The global nanotechnology market could top $2tn by 2012, predicts Tim Harper, founder of the nanotech consultancy CMP Cientifica. "What we see is a big take-off in 2011, and by 2012 the industry is really going to be booming," he says. "We've been pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the nanotech industry for the last decade and we're finally getting to the point where we're seeing products being manufactured and sold."

Harper predicts that by 2010, areas of nanotechnology and biology will have merged, setting in motion the production of a wealth of new drugs and clinical equipment (such as the vials of nanomaterials for use in health products, clothes and cosmetics). His research sees nanotech pharmaceutical and healthcare products worth an estimated $3.2tn by 2012, with military-use nanotech products taking 14% of the total market and worth $40bn.

Nanotech products for the motor industry will make up a 4% chunk of the market, while nano-foods are likely to corner up to 2%. Nanotech products designed to tackle water, air and soil pollution will also be big business in 2012. "In terms of environmentally beneficial materials, in some ways the Chinese are further along in their thinking than even the US," says Harper. "They are already putting together a system to work out how we can use these technologies for the good of the environment." The US may still lead the nano surge overall, but Harper believes China will be on a par with the EU and US by 2012.

Richard Appelbaum, from the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of California, puts the global nanotech market figure at $2.6tn by 2014, or 15% of manufacturing output in that year. China, along with 40 other countries including the US, UK and Japan, is investing in nanotechnology "as a major key to global economic competitiveness", he says.

If any one nation succeeds in cornering the giant's share of the market, it "would be sufficient to confer global economic leadership on the country", he adds.


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