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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > NanotechnologyKTN > Nanotechnology: A UK Industry View

Fiona Brewer

On the 14th January 2010, the Nanotechnology Mini-Innovation and Growth Team (Mini-IGT) presented a report to the UK Government and industry entitled, Nanotechnology: A UK Industry View, giving its recommendations for the future success of nanotechnology in the UK. The report considered the status of nanotechnology in the UK today and provided recommendations in response to the concerns and issues raised.

February 1st, 2010

Nanotechnology: A UK Industry View

Nanotechnology provides a significant opportunity to address global challenges. This is leading to intense global competition to commercialise different products enabled by nanotechnology. However, UK industry is well placed to capitalise on this opportunity and participate in the development of many new products and services by operating alone or in collaboration with international partners. Success in this area will lead to growth in employment and wealth creation. Today, nanotechnology is evolving with some mature products and many in the growth and developmental stage. This is not unlike the condition of computer science in the 1960s or biotechnology in the 1980s. Nanotechnology has been applied to the development of products and processes across many industries particularly over the past ten years. Products are now available in markets ranging from consumer products through medical products to plastics and coatings and electronics products.

There have been various market reports estimating the scale of potential future value for products that are "nanotechnology enabled". A report from Lux Research published in 2006 entitled The Nanotech Report 4th Edition, notes that nanotechnology was incorporated into more than $30 billion in manufactured goods in 2005.

The projection is that in 2014, $2.6 trillion in manufactured goods will incorporate nanotechnology. Even if this is an over-estimate, it is clear that there is a vast market available for nanotechnology based products.

It is extremely important to the UK economy that UK companies engaged in nanotechnology participate at each stage of the supply chain. While companies are moving speedily to develop further and more advanced products based on nanotechnology, they are becoming increasingly aware that there are many challenges to address.

It was with this background that a Mini Innovation and Growth Team (Mini-IGT) was formed comprising members of the NanoKTN and the Materials KTN as the secretariat, together with members of the Chemistry Innovation KTN and the Sensors and Instrumentation KTN, to prepare a report on nanotechnology on behalf of UK industry. A questionnaire was sent to the members of the various KTNs to solicit feedback on their views on nanotechnology focussing on their commercial position and also their concerns and issues.

While the UK Government has commissioned reports and provided responses over the past decade, in the field of nanotechnology, the UK has not articulated an overarching national strategy on nanotechnology that can rank alongside those from the likes of the US and Germany. It is intended that this report, with its unique industry led views on nanotechnology, together with other strategic documents, including the Nanoscale Technologies Strategy 2009-2012 produced by the Technology Strategy Board, will provide a significant contribution to a future UK Government Strategy on Nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is the basis for many products that are in common use and is providing the capability to produce a very wide range of new products that will become commonplace in the near future. The UK, like many other countries, has invested heavily in nanotechnology and has considered, through a series of reports and Government responses, how to manage and fund nanotechnology developments. At the third meeting of the Ministerial Group on Nanotechnology it was agreed that a nanotechnology strategy should be developed for the UK. As part of the strategy development process, Lord Drayson launched an evidence gathering website on 7th July 2009. Alongside this, four Knowledge Transfer Networks (Nanotechnology, Materials, Chemistry Innovation and Sensors & Instrumentation) with significant industrial interest in nanotechnology agreed that it was necessary for industry to contribute to policy development using the bottom up approach. It is intended that this report with its unique industry led views on nanotechnology will provide a significant contribution to a future overarching UK Government Strategy on Nanotechnology, alongside other input from inter alia the Technology Strategy Board and the Research Councils.

In addition to the questionnaire, feedback was sought from industry at workshop discussions with invited industry leaders and others in the field of nanotechnology to gather information on what they are currently doing and what their future needs are to create enhanced value from nanotechnology. A full review of UK and international strategic approaches was also undertaken. This report considers where the UK currently sits in terms of investment in comparison with its major industrial competitors and reviews the UK's capability to exploit nanotechnology given the organisations and funding bodies currently in place.

The following recommendations on Policy and Regulation, Funding, Skills and Engagement have been developed to provide a basis for implementation of the Government Strategy based on this feedback and are listed below. A view is also given of what the UK status on nanotechnology would be in 2020 assuming that the recommendations are followed in the intervening years. These recommendations are in line with the UK Government's strategy for New Industry, New Jobs which is part of Building Britain's Future.

This report, informed and led by the UK's nanotechnology industry, recommends that the following are paramount to the successful exploitation of nanotechnology in the UK. These are listed under four headings and under each heading the recommendations are ranked in order of importance. These recommendations focus on areas where Government can make a significant difference.

Policy and Regulation

1. Nanotechnology innovation and exploitation is business driven. The department responsible for leading and coordinating nanotechnology activities across Government should be the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to ensure investment provides added value for the UK.

2. The Technology Strategy Board must implement its Nanoscale Technologies Strategy with specific funded calls to deliver commercialisation of value adding nanotechnology based products.

3. Government should address the need for responsible development of all emerging technologies, including nanotechnologies, by putting in place a framework through which product risk assessments can be carried out alongside industry's need to focus on innovation.

4. Defra, other Government Departments, relevant KTNs and trade associations should engage with industry to ensure the effective operation of a simplified Voluntary Reporting Scheme in the UK for nanomaterials and to work with EU regulators to ensure ongoing REACH regulations take account of nanotechnology fully and effectively.


1. Provide more accessible and commercially focussed funding for SMEs as well as larger companies engaged in the development of nanotechnology based products to support innovation in the UK.

2. Invest in key establishments and organisations to build world class capability in nanotechnology product development.

3. Provide funding for cross-sectoral initiatives to apply developments achieved in one sector to other sectors and applications.

4. Continue to invest in standardisation activities to maintain UK leadership in creating international standards for nanotechnology and National Measurement System facilities. Develop individuals with the skills and expertise to support commercialisation of nanotechnology in the UK.


1. Develop world class professional education programmes at all levels covering all aspects of nanotechnology.

2. Improve and promote vocational training in nanotechnology from technician level to develop individuals with the skills and expertise to support commercialisation of nanotechnology in the UK.


1. Ensure that the general public is informed of product developments based on nanotechnology.

2. Industry and Government should engage in an evidence based dialogue with the Unions and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

3. Provide support for two-way international collaboration to gather and share an information
base on nanotechnology.

4. Government and industry should assist banking and insurance companies in understanding nanotechnology to enable sound investments to be made.

UK in 10 Years

There is a very strong technical base within the UK in the field of nanotechnology in 2009. Historically, the UK has been successful at research. It is crucial that this success follows through to commercialisation and the key to exploitation of this technical base is considered in this report with a series of recommendations provided above. It is believed that only if these recommendations are followed then the UK can become a successful player in the commercialisation of nanotechnology leading to significant societal and economic benefits.

Below is a list of how the UK may be viewed in 2020:

World class and integrated nanotechnology centres derived from the original set of MNT centres.
Body of UK trained scientists, engineers and managers capable of ensuring significant growth in commercialisation of nanotechnology based products.
Research Council and other Government funded programmes focussed on next generation nanotechnologies addressing Grand Challenge needs.
Thriving nanotechnology SME community working with Government ensuring funding is directed in a timely fashion to grow value-adding nanotechnology based businesses.
International regulation for nanotechnology agreed and understood by all with definitions and standards the basis for the regulation.
The UK embedded in strong international nanotechnology business collaborations.
Acceptance that processes for risk assessment and life cycle analysis for nanotechnology are no different in principle than for other technologies, and are conducted as a matter of standard practice by companies developing nanomaterials or nanotechnology based products.
Family of nanotechnology based drugs and diagnostics products developed in the UK that ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of providing health benefits through its world class pharmaceutical businesses.
Family of nanotechnology based products developed in the UK that contribute to the Low Carbon Economy.
Public understanding that nanotechnology like any other technology has its benefits and risks and that these are considered and managed as part of the development of any nanotechnology based product.
The UK recognised as a leader within The Organisation for Economic Co-ordination and Development (OECD) with respect to best practice in the development, manufacture and risk management of nanotechnology based products.
UK led robust platforms for metrology and modelling in support of ongoing nanotechnology business needs.
A comprehensive standards infrastructure to support industry and other stakeholders
UK developed nanotechnology based products manufactured in the Developing World or local use to address major health and welfare issues.
The UK recognised as the leading centre for investment management and financial products related to nanotechnology.

The report can be downloaded at and Hard copies can also be requested by emailing

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