Editorial Feature

Worldwide Public Funding for Research and Development in Nanotechnology

The main reason for government interest in nanotechnology is strategic: to achieve an advantageous position so that when nanotech applications begin to have a significant effect in the world economy, countries are able to exploit these new opportunities to the full. 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. 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: Smith echoes this sentiment when he speculates that it is entirely possible that much, or even most, US government research in the field is concentrated in the hands of military planners. Levels of public investment in nanotechnology are reminiscent of a growing strategic interest: this is an area that attracts both large and small countries. Global R&D spending is currently around US$4 billion, with public investment increasing rapidly (503% between 1997 and 2002 across the ‘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 there are 20 research groups 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.

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, with eight institutions making the DTI (Department for Trade and Industry, UK) top list of 13. These centres are University of Santa Barbara, Cornell University, University of California at Los Angeles, Stanford University, IBM Research Laboratories, Northwestern University, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In total, more than 30 universities have announced plans for nanotech research centres since 1997.

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 that, ‘while other governments are investing in a range of nanotechnology research, the US effort is by far the most substantial.’ 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. Then in 2000, the much-heralded (National Nanotechnology Initiative) NNI was launched - a multi-agency programme designed to provide a big funding boost for nanotechnology. There are currently 10 US government partners in the NNI3. 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

Which Bodies in the USA Receive the Most Government Funding?

Table 2 shows that the NSF and Department of Defence (DoD) are the two major recipients of investment in nanoscience and technology R&D. Indeed, the NSF has designated ‘nanoscale science and engineering’ 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 a fairly 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 virtually 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 anticipated to increase rapidly once the economic benefits of US funding begin to be felt, whether in new company start-up activity, or progress towards military or social goals.

Government Funding in the Far East

Table 3 shows the levels of 2002 government spending on nanotechnology within 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. However, while the figures given are up-to-date, the time-scales over which they operate are ambiguous

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. Indeed, it is universally agreed that Japan has the only fully co-ordinated and funded national policy of nanotechnology research. The most prominent product of this national policy has been the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) programme on atomic manipulation, 1991–2001, entitled ‘Research and Development of Ultimate Manipulation of Molecules’. The programme was funded at the ¥25 billion level (approximately US$210 million). Of the total, US$167 million has been allocated for the development of microbots.

Japan Sees Nanotechnology as the Key to Reviving its Economy

Nowadays, the Japanese government views the successful development of nanotechnology as key to 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. In another initiative, which it calls its ‘e-Japan strategy’, the Japanese government aims to become ‘the world’s most advanced IT nation within five years’. 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

1000

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 (millions in euros).

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 Aim of the EU’s Framework Programme for Nanotechnology

The European Commission (EC) funds nanoscience through its so-called Framework Programme (FP). The aim of the FP6 is to produce breakthrough technologies that directly benefit the EU, either economically or socially. Under this, 1.3 billion Euros are 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 Euros. This thematic priority is only partly dedicated to nanoscience, while other thematic priorities also have a nanotechnology component.

The 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 (0.72 billion Euros). However, it does not take into account the substantial contributions made by individual 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 is set to rise quite rapidly in 2002–2003 as the new interdisciplinary research collaborations and university technology centres start to spread.

Note: A complete list of references can be found by referring to the original text.

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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