Editorial Feature

Worldwide Public Funding for Research and Development in Nanotechnology

Article updated on 15 January 2020.

Worldwide Public Funding for Research and Development in Nanotechnology

The main reason for a government’s interest in nanotechnology is strategic: to be in an advantageous position when nanotech applications present significant opportunities in the world economy. Harper, who describes the current situation as a global arms race, puts these ideas into perspective.

Similarities between information technology and nanotechnology evolutions

“You only have to look at how IT made a huge difference to both the US economy and US military strength to see how crucial technology is,” says Harper. “Nanotechnology is an even more fundamental technology than IT. Not only has it the ability to shift the balance of military power but also affect the global balance of power in the energy markets.”

Main areas of nanotechnology spending

This emphasis on military power is well-founded, with Smith speculating that much, or even most, US government research in the field may be concentrated in the hands of military planners. Levels of public investment in nanotechnology are reminiscent of growing strategic interest; this is an area that attracts both large and small countries. Global research and development (R&D) spending are currently around US$4 billion, with public investment increasing rapidly (503% between 1997 and 2002 across lead countries). Table 1 summarises these rises.

Table 1. World-wide government funding for nanotechnology research and development (US$million).

Area

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

US*

116

190

255

270

422

604

710

Western Europe

126

151

179

200

225

400

NA

Japan

120

135

157

245

465

 

NA

Others**

70

83

96

110

380

520

NA

Total

432

559

687

825

1502

2174

NA

% of 1997

100

129

159

191

348

503

NA

NA: not available.

* Excluding non-federal spending, e.g. California.

** “Others” includes Australia, Canada, China, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Singapore, Taiwan and other countries with nanotechnology R&D. For example, in Mexico, 20 research groups are working independently on nanotechnology. Korea, already a world player in electronics, has an ambitious 10-year programme to attain a world-class position in nanotechnology.

Table 1.1, from a 2019 paper, shows how the trajectory of nanotechnology funding in lead countries has continued to rise.

Table 1.1. Source: Grewal, D. S.,  2019. Funding Nanotechnology: A Comparative Study of Global and National Funding. Journal of Nanomedicine, Nanoscience

and Technology JNNT-105.

Country

Funding for nanotechnology

US

Passed Nanotech R&D Act; allocated US$3.7 billion to nanotech for 2005-08 initial budget allocation (US$500 million in 2000)

UK

£45 million per year from 2003 to 2009

EU

€1 billion R&D funding

Japan

US$400 million in 2001; US$800 million in 2003; later raised 20%

Government funding in the USA

The US is widely considered to be the world leader in nanoscale science research. Certainly, in terms of leading centres for nanotechnology research, the USA dominates. The US’s eight world-leading centres are the University of Santa Barbara, Cornell University, the University of California at Los Angeles, Stanford University, IBM Research Laboratories, Northwestern University, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In total, more than 30 universities have plans for nanotech research.

The USA leads the way for public funding in nanotechnology

Further, the US is widely regarded as the benchmark against which nanotechnology funding should be compared. Indeed, Howard states, “While other governments are investing in a range of nanotechnology research, the US effort is by far the most substantial.” Historically, from 1985-1997 the total support for projects related to nanotechnology was estimated at US$452 million, coming in roughly equal parts from the NSF (National Science Foundation), various industrial sponsorship, and other government funding. In 2000, the much-heralded National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) was launched. This was a multi-agency programme designed to provide a big funding boost for nanotechnology. There were 10 US government partners in the NNI by 2003. These are shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Breakdown of spending on the US’s National Nanotechnology Initiative from 2001–2003 (US$million).

Recipient

2001 actual

2002 estimate

2003 proposed

National Science Foundation

145

199

221

Department of Defence

125

180

201

Department of Energy

78

91

139

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

0

46

49

National Institute

of Health

40

41

43

National Institute of Standards and Technology

28

37

44

Environmental

Protection Agency

5

5

5

Department of Transportation

0

2

2

US Department of Agriculture

0

2

5

Department of Justice

1

1

1

Total

422

604

710

This list has now almost trebled with 28 partner agencies in 2019:

  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)
  • Agricultural Research Service (USDA/ARS)
  • Bureau of Industry and Security, Department of Commerce (BIS/DOC)
  • Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
  • Department of Defence (DOD)
  • Department of Education (DOEd)
  • Department of Energy (DOE)
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  • Department of Justice/ National Institute of Justice (DOJ/NIJ)
  • Department of State (DOS)
  • Department of Transportation (DOT. incl. Federal Highway Administration FHWA)
  • Department of Treasury (DOTreas)
  • Department of Labor/ Occupational Safety and Health Administration (DOL/OSHA)
  • Economic Development Administration (EDA/DOC)
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
  • National Cancer Institute
  • National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH)
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST=Dept. Of Commerce)
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • National Science Federation
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service (USDA/FS)
  • U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
  • U.S. Intelligence Community
  • U.S. Patent and Trade Office (USPTO)
  • The United States International Trade Commission (USITC)

Which bodies in the USA receive the most government funding?

Table 2 shows that the NSF and DOD are the two major recipients of investment in nanoscience and technology R&D. Indeed, the NSF has designated “nanoscale science and engineering2 as one of its six priority areas, while the DOD has dedicated its funding to elaborating a “conceptual template for achieving new levels of war-fighting effectiveness”. This table provides an accurate picture of current research priorities in the US.

State Funding for nanotechnology in the USA?

However, state funding, which can sometimes be substantial, is not included in the estimates. For example, the state of California, which is home to all the work in molecular nanotechnology, has invested US$100 million in the creation of a California Nanosystems Institute. And neither are the figures static: levels of funding are increasing.

Government funding in the Far East

Table 3 shows the levels of 2002 government spending on nanotechnology in five countries in the Far East. On average, these figures are lower than in the US although, given the increased purchasing power in countries such as China, they may be considered as relatively high.

Table 3. Top five government spending on nanotechnology in the Far East in 2002 (US$million).

Country

Spending

Japan

750

China

200

Korea

150

Taiwan

111

Singapore

40

Total

1251

Japan invests the most in nanotechnology in the Far East

Of all the countries shown in Table 3, Japan’s nanotech investments are by far the greatest and have remained so since in recent decades. Today, the Japanese government views the successful development of nanotechnology as key to the restoration of its economy: nanotechnology is one of the four strategic platforms of Japan’s second basic plan for science and technology. For example, the Japanese government has founded the Expert Group on Nanotechnology under the Japan Federation of Economic Organisations Committee on Industrial Technology. Japan’s government nanotechnology expenditures are given in Table 4.

Table 4. Estimated Japanese government nanotechnology research and development expenditures (US$million).

1997

1998

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

120

135

157

245

465

750

1,000

Although the figures given in Table 4 are impressive, Roman believes that the annual 50% increase does cast some doubt over their accuracy. For while there is no doubt that funding will continue to increase, increasing the number of researchers available to absorb this extra funding does not seem possible on an annual basis.

Public funding in the European Union

All European Union (EU) member states, except Luxembourg where no universities are located, have research programmes. For some countries, such as Germany, Ireland or Sweden, where nanotechnology is considered of strategic importance, nanotechnology programmes have been established for several years. On the other hand, many countries have no specifically focused nanotechnology initiatives, but this research is covered within more general R&D programmes. Table 5 summarises the situation for the top six countries.

Table 5. Top six European government nanotechnology spending from 1998-2000 (€million).

Country/ Institution

1998

1999

2000

Germany

49.0

58.0

63.0

UK

32.0

35.0

39.0

European Commission

26.0

27.0

29.0

France

12.0

18.0

19.0

Netherlands

4.7

6.2

6.9

Sweden

3.4

5.6

5.8

European total

139.8

164.7

184.0

The EU Framework Programme for Nanotechnology

The European Commission (EC) funds nanoscience through its so-called Framework Programme 6 (FP6). FP6 aims to produce breakthrough technologies that directly benefit the EU, either economically or socially. Under this, €1.3 billion was earmarked for “nanotechnologies and nanosciences, knowledge-based multifunctional materials and new production processes and devices” in the 2002-2006 FP out of a total budget of €11.3 billion. This thematic priority is only partly dedicated to nanoscience, while other thematic priorities also have a nanotechnology component.

EU member states also fund nanotechnology R&D

At first glance, this may seem a small figure compared to the 2003 NNI budget of US$710 million. However, it does not consider the substantial individual contributions made by member states. The UK serves as a good example of this, where public spending on nanotechnology R&D was around £30 million in 2001, 70-80% of it from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). However, this has risen quite rapidly in 2002–2003 as the new interdisciplinary research collaborations and university technology centres started to spread.

Primary author: Alexander Huw Arnall.

Source:

Greenpeace report. Future Technologies, Today’s Choices Nanotechnology, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics; A technical, political and institutional map of emerging technologies. July 2003.

For more information on this source please visit Greenpeace.

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