Materials underpin 70% of the GNP of the industrialised nations, in one way or another, and are therefore vital to the economy. Nanotechnology provides a route to the creation of almost limitless kinds of novel materials in a variety of ways. Nanomaterials can be described as ‘novel materials whose size of elemental structure has been engineered at the nanometre scale’. Materials in the nanometre size range exhibit fundamentally new behaviour, as their size falls below the critical length scale associated with any given property. Intervention in the properties of materials at the nanoscale permits the creation of materials and devices with hitherto undreamed of performance characteristics and functionality.
Classification and Composition of Nanomaterials
Nanomaterials include clusters of atoms (quantum dots, nanodots, inorganic macromolecules), grains that are less than 100 nanometres in size (nanocrystalline, nanophase, nanostructured materials), fibres that are less than 100 nanometres in diameter (nanorods, nanoplatelets, nanotubes, nanofibrils, quantum wires), films that are less than 100 nanometres in thickness, nanoholes, and composites that are a combination of these. The composition can be any combination of naturally occurring elements, with the more important compositions being silicates, carbides, nitrides, oxides, borides, selenides, tellurides, sulfides, halides, alloys, intermetallics, metals, organic polymers, and composites.
Current and Future Markets for Nanomaterials
There is a large and rapidly growing market for new materials - including speciality chemicals, catalysts, pigments, coatings, ceramics, ceramic powders and metal oxides.
Technical Challenges Facing Manufacturers of Nanomaterials
The key technical challenges are:
• Design, synthesis, characterisation and property evaluation of nanocomposites, nanolayered coatings and nanostructured materials using neutron and X-ray scattering, NMR, dielectric spectroscopy, positron annihilation, ion beam analysis, scanning probe microscopy and electron microscopy.
• Molecular and mesoscopic modelling.
• Development of self-assembly and biomimetic techniques for nano-functional and nanostructured materials.
• Establishment of knowledge concerning use of sol-gel and colloidal chemistry as the basis of novel functional materials.
• Controlled production of nanoparticles (in terms of the size and features of the nanoparticles) for reproducibility, reliability and scalability; the development of directed deposition techniques and new methods of catalyst characterisation.
• Analysis and emulation of biological deposition techniques; that is, the application of biomimetics to novel materials. 58
Global Competition in the Field of Nanomaterials
In biomaterials, the US is at the forefront in tissue engineering and advanced controlled release. In other areas of such as molecular sensors and diagnostics, Europe is in a strong position. In ceramics, Japan and the US lead. Japan dominates in manufacturing, the US in basic research; and there is also strong research and development activity in Germany. In magnetic materials, research has declined in the US, but Europe and Japan have sustained their interest and invested in infrastructure. In metals, with new developments in synthesis, behaviour, performance, processing and so on, the US leads in many areas, but the UK as well as France, Germany and Japan are recognised as having significant capability.
Electronic and Optical-Photonic Materials - Developments in the USA and Japan
Electronic and optical-photonic materials: in the area of semiconductor technology, the US does well, but Japan leads in most areas of display technology. Nanotechnology is leading to materials with unusual electronic and optical properties derived from their feature sizes; many of which are being developed in the US. In many areas of optical-photonic and electronic materials, the US benefits from facilities set up by the NSF (National Science Foundation). The US benefits from fast-tracking innovations through ‘development companies,’ which link industry and research, and survive mainly on state projects.
New Materials in Germany and German Companies Who Are Using Nanomaterials in Manufacturing
Germany was arguably the first country to use nanotechnology as the basis of new materials development, though, according to some commentators, the industrial environment is presently not conducive to rapid growth. Several networks exist which bring together companies and research organisations to exchange information, which is particularly helpful to SMEs. Germany has major nanomaterials users such as VW, and Daimler Chrysler in the automotive sector; Bayer, Merck, Degussa, and BASF in chemicals; other companies such as Henkel; and features SMEs in high-technology areas such as optics, electronics, and data communications, together with large electronics companies such as Siemens and Bosch.
Development of Nanomaterials in the UK
The UK’s position in materials is perceived as being relatively weak, but improving in several respects. There are strengths in polymers, catalysts and biocompatible materials, and in the underpinning colloidal science. The UK has leading companies in coatings and hard materials, and real strengths in producing some nanoparticles and in creating catalysts. Much innovative work is underway in academia. Some firms, including several small and medium firms, some being new start-ups, are particularly active, though major users are not prominent. In Europe generally, SMEs are the driving force in the use of new materials.