Editorial Feature

Nanotechnology in South Korea: Market Report

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South Korea, located in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula, covers a total area of 100,210 km2 and has a population of 51.25m as of 2016. It is a mature country with high standards of living and a large, export-driven economy.

South Korea has a market economy that is export-driven. The country’s key exports include wireless telecommunications equipment, semiconductors, petrochemicals, computers, steel, motor vehicles and ships. The chief imports include transport equipment, plastics, electronic equipment and electronics, oil, organic chemicals and machinery. The country’s key exports include wireless telecommunications equipment, semiconductors, petrochemicals, computers, steel, motor vehicles and ships. The chief imports include transport equipment, plastics, electronic equipment and electronics, oil, organic chemicals and machinery.

South Korea is a well developed country with high standards of living and is considered the fourth largest economy in Asia. South Korea’s economy depends largely on international business and the country was the sixth largest exporter and tenth largest importer in the world in 2010. The medical sector also contributes to the country’s production sector, especially in the production of antibiotics and hepatitis vaccines.  South Korea’s GDP in 2016 was US$1.411 trillion.

Nanotechnology Companies

The major nanotechnology-related companies in South Korea are listed below, along with a brief introduction to each of them:

  • ABC Nanotech - a future-oriented business specializing in the production of nanomaterials that create high value-added propositions.
  • Advanced Nano Products Co., Ltd - a world-leading company focusing its business and research on the manufacturing of ceramic and metallic nano-powder applied products.
  • Carbon Nano-Material Technology - have developed mass-production technology for carbon nanomaterials. Their world-first, in-house developed technology enhances catalyst production and synthesis in the existing production process and costs about 20 to 30% that of existing technology.
  • Nano Co. - NANO is the only company that manufactures and regenerates Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) catalysts in Korea. Their regeneration technology has been successfully established for almost 20 years at various foreign power plants.
  • Nano Technology Inc - was established in March 2002 to preoccupy the technology predominance in the world. NTI has been carrying out various R&D projects related to nanotechnology and has developed and produced several products as follows:
    • Pulsed Wire Evaporation System to produce Nano Powder
    • Magnetic Pulsed Compaction System to compact Nano Powder
    • Metal/Ceramic Nano Powder : Al, Cu, Fe, Ag, Sn, W, Zn, Cu-Ni Alloy, CuO, ZnO, SnO2
    • Nano Fiber: Al2O3, Fe2O3
    • Nano Lubricant
  • Nanopoly - a professional consulting company specializing in Nano Convergence Technology that integrates environment technology, biotechnology and information technology. Nanopoly supplies nanomaterials and provides independent technical support.
  • Nanotech - a leading player in the cemented carbide and tungsten alloy market, having commercialised new materials utilising nanotechnology.
  • Park Systems - provides a complete range of AFM solutions including systems, options and software, along with global service and support. Park Systems is the leading nanotechnology solutions partner for the most challenging problems of nanoscale research and industrial applications. The organization provides original and innovative AFM solutions for the most accurate nanoscale measurements and promotes the sustainable, long-term growth of its business by constantly seeking to address the changing needs of AFM users. Their comprehensive portfolio of products, software, services and expertise is designed and engineered to help customers achieve the nanometrology performance that meets the needs and requirements of present and future applications.
  • COOL TTM - uses cutting-edge technology and engineering to provide epochal thermal management solutions for a variety of electronics suppliers worldwide. Micro and nanotechnology-based core products were developed with the financial backing of Government Research Funds in 2004. Since 2008, their products were adopted by global companies in Korea, United States, Germany, Japan, England, Israel and Russia.
  • NTbase - a leading manufacturer of pure nanopowders, that has the ability to make high-quality products in large quantities. Their pure nanopowder is made by a low voltage plasma process and provides the highest degree of purity and quality.

Nanotechnology Research and Education

Some of the leading academic institutions in South Korea offer courses and research programs in nanoscience and nanotechnology are listed below:

Korea University

Hosts the following institutes dedicated to nanotechnology research:

  • The Institute of Nano Science - research focus areas include carbon nanotubes, DRAM (Dynamic RAM) and FRAM (ferromagnetic RAM) materials and properties.
  • Institute for Nano-Biotechnology

Molecular Nanoelectronics Lab

Conducts nanotechnology-based research on the following topics:

  • Molecular electronics
  • Statistical analysis
  • Molecular configuration dependent charge transport
  • Metal-molecule contacts
  • Inelastic electron tunneling spectroscopy (IETS)
  • Polymer non-volatile memory devices

Inje University

Promotes nanotechnology research through the Department of Nano Engineering. They also provide Masters and Doctrate courses in Nano System Engineering.

Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology

Promotes nanotech research through the laboratory given below:

  • Laboratory for Nanostructures Biointerfaces - focuses on designing and making new nanoscale molecules and materials through synthesis and/or assembly.
  • Soft Nanomaterials Laboratory - promotes research on the following topics:
    • Block copolymer nanolithography
    • Carbon nanotubes and graphene
  • Super Lattice Nanomaterials Laboratory - conducts research on the following topics:
    • Nanophotonic materials and devices
    • Biofunctional nanoassemblies
    • Self-organized nanopatterned devices

Pohang University

Provides nanotech research through the following research centers:

  • Nanoscale Materials Research Laboratory - conducts nanotechnology research on the following topics:
    • Nanomaterials
    • Nanoelectronics
    • Nano bio-systems
  • Nano Rheology - nanotechnology research is conducted in the following areas:
    • Reactive polymer blend
    • Nano pattering
    • Polymer/clay nanocomposite
    • Characterization of nanostructures materials
    • Binder for powder injection molding
    • UV cured advanced pressure-sensitive adhesive
    • Polymer/particle composite
    • Phase behavior of polymer blend
    • Nanowire with block copolymer template      
    • Nanostructured membranes for the separation of proteins and biomaterials  

Seoul National University

Promotes nanotech-based research through the below mentioned laboratory:

  • Graphene Research Lab - conducts research on the following nanotech areas: 
    • Nanomaterials synthesis
    • Nanofabrication and characterization
    • Nano-analysis
    • Quantum mechanics and molecular dynamics simulation
  • Nanofabrication Lab - current research activities focus on the fabrication of novel nanoscale materials and devices such as graphene, transparent conducting oxide, nanopore/nanochannel structures for manipulation of ions, biomolecules and DNA.

Nano Transport Laboratory

Nanotechnology-based research is focused on the following topics:

  • Introduction to nanotransport in synthetic metals
  • Polyaceylene nanofibers
  • SPM study on conducting polymer
  • Organic Thin Film Transistor (OTFT)
  • Molecular electronics
  • Carbon nanotube devices
  • Nano Electromechanical Systems (NEMS) on carbon nanotube and polymers
  • Carbon nanotube composites
  • Carbon-based material - e.g. Graphene
  • High Tc superconductors in nanoscale

Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology

Promotes nanotechnology-based research at its School of Nano-Bioscience and Chemical Engineering (NBC) that focuses nanotechnology for sustainability.

Yonsei University

Emphasizes the study of nanotechnology by promoting research activities through the following areas:

  • Center for Evolutionary Nanoparticles - promotes research on the following areas:
    • Nano-chemistry
    • Nano-medicine
    • Nano-energy

Korean Institute of Science and Technology

Facilitates nanotech-based research through the following research center:

  • Nanomaterials Center - The center’s key research areas include:
    • Development of 0D-1D hybrid nanostructures
    • Alignment, arranging, and applications of nanoparticles
    • Development of dielectric ceramic materials
    • Synthesis and applications of nano powders

Further Developments

Researchers at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology’s Interdisciplinary School of Green Energy invented a nanotech battery that will help reduce the charging time for electric cars. Another team of researchers have used metal nanoparticles/plasmonics to improve the performance of polymer light-emitting diodes (PLEDs) and polymer solar cells (PSCs) resulting in world-record performance. This is an interesting development given these two types of devices have contrary demands. To find a single material that can enhance the performance of both at the same time is extraordinary.

Meanwhile, in July 2013, other researchers from the same university reported that they have developed a simple, low-cost, eco-friendly method for creating nitrogen-doped graphene nanoplatelets that have a potential application in dye-sensitized solar cells.

In yet another nanotech development from UNIST, researchers devised a means to mass-produce mesoporous graphene for use in supercapacitors, which have long life cycles, a highly reversible charge storage process and specific storage capacity.

In another discovery, a team of scientists from South Korea, Australia, Brazil, China and Canada have concluded that artificial muscles based on carbon nanotube yarns infused with paraffin wax are capable of lifting more than 100,000 times their own weight and generating 85 times more mechanical power compared with natural muscles that are of the same size.

In another battery breakthrough, Korean researchers have used silica found in waste rice husks to create anodes for high capacity lithium batteries. While the source material is a waste product, the nanostructure of the resultant silica is desirable due to its nanoporosity which permits air and water ventilation.

Researchers at Yonsei University have created coatings of silver ions on glass yielding antibacterial properties. This technology could be used to protect medical equipment from bacteria which would be particularly useful in disaster recovery and military applications.

Korean-based Park Systems, a leading AFM manufacturer launched the NX-HDM, a fully automated defect review and sub-angstrom surface roughness AFM system for device substrates and disk media. This is the first metrology tool capable of providing this level of accuracy and automation.

Seoul played host to Nano Korea 2013, aimed at creating new business and boosting cooperation in nanotechnology.

Korea's economy is characterised by competitiveness and a vibrant private sector, bolstered by a well-educated labour force and a high capacity for innovation. They have also capitalised on their penchant for global trade and investment. Economic growth could have been faster if corruption was reduced and the President had been able to deliver on campaign pledges. However, South Korea has still enjoyed decades of impressive economic growth, and become world leaders in many areas such as electronics, telecommunications and automobile manufacturing.

South Korea is committed to technology-based economic development and there is a national consensus that recognises the importance of science, technology and innovation. As such, research and development enjoys a large commitment to spending with their gross expenditure on R&D (GERD) and continues to grow year on year. Industry’s funding outweighs that of government by 3:1.

South Korea's commitment to science and technology, backed up by their high GERD, indicates that developing areas such as nanotechnology stand to benefit. This can be witnessed by the high level of reported developments that have come out of universities. They have also identified green technology as a focal point, so it will be no surprise to see nanotech developments in this field in the coming years.

However, with such a large proportion of R&D being funded privately by larger corporations, there is no doubt that there have been and will be many more nanotech-related developments that may not be publicly reported for reasons of confidentiality and competitive advantage.

In summary, South Korea should continue to be a nation that embraces R&D, innovation and nanotechnology. As such, South Korea would make a good place to be a nanotech researcher, but how much the public hears about their successes is another question altogether.

Sources and Further Reading

This article was updated on the 2nd September, 2019.

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