Charting Europe’s nanotechnology roadmap

Mega UploadsNanotechnology is opening the way to a new industrial  revolution. From ‘individualised’ medical treatments tailored for each patient  to new, environmentally-friendly energy storage and generation systems,  nanotechnology is bringing significant advances. Exciting new futures await  those businesses able to get ahead in the race to turn this wealth of promise  into commercial success.




But in a field which requires a high degree of  coordinated effort involving many different stakeholder groups, including  researchers, policymakers and commercial players across a wide variety of  industrial sectors, it has perhaps been inevitable that fragmentation,  disconnectedness and duplication have stood in the way.
NANOfutures was set up in 2010 to tackle exactly  this problem of fragmentation. Supported by European Union (EU) funding,  NANOfutures is a European Technology and Innovation Platform (ETIP) bringing  together industry, research institutions and universities, NGOs, financial  institutions, civil society and policymakers at regional, national and European  levels. Acting as a kind of ‘nano-hub’ for Europe, NANOfutures is dedicated to  fostering a shared vision and strategy on the future of  nanotechnology.

Reflecting its  objective of achieving a truly cross-sectoral approach, breaking out of  individual industry silos and addressing the major nanotech issues which are  common to all sectors, NANOfutures set up a steering committee which included  representatives from 11 European Technology Platforms (ETPs) – sector-specific  networks of industry and academia – including those for textiles, nanomedicine,  construction and transportation. Chaired by Professor Paolo Matteazzi of Italian  specialist nanomaterials company MBN Nanomaterialia, the committee also included  ten nanotechnology experts, each one chairing a NANOfutures working group on  cross-sectoral topics such as safety, standardisation, regulation, technology  transfer and innovative financing.

This approach allowed  NANOfutures to identify key aspects of nanotechnology and its exploitation in  which all players – from researcher to politician, financier, commercial  developer, regulator or end-user – were involved and therefore had common  interests.

One of the major successes achieved by the two-year project was  securing an agreement by all 11 ETPs on a set of research and innovation themes  for the next decade. “The ETPs agreed to focus their private efforts, and call  for increasing public efforts, on such themes in order to bring European  nano-enabled products to successful commercialisation, with benefits for the  grand challenges of our time such as climate change, affordable and effective  medicine, green mobility and manufacturing,” says the project’s coordinator,  Margherita Cioffi of Italian engineering consultancy D’Appolonia.

The most tangible result of this, and the key outcome from  NANOfutures, was the development and publication of a ‘Research and Industrial  Roadmap’ setting out, in Ms Cioffi’s words, “a pathway up to 2020 which will  enable European industry and researchers to deliver and successfully  commercialise sustainable and safe nano-enabled products.” Divided into seven  separate thematic areas, or ‘value-chains’, the roadmap covers European  priorities from materials research to product design, manufacturing, assembly,  use and disposal. It describes both short- and longer-term actions with the aim  of providing a practical guide for EC and Member State governments, research  centres and industry, as well as standardisation and regulation bodies.

Other benefits directly resulting from the project, Ms Cioffi  adds, were the sharing of safety best practices, the creation of partnerships to  promote product development, training and other services, and the bringing  together of relevant SME businesses with potential users and investors during  specially organised Technology Transfer workshops.

Since it is not a product in itself, but a method with an  enormous range of potential applications, nanotechnology naturally reaches into  a diverse range of human activities. Paradoxically, almost, this very richness  and universality of its benefits leads to a fragmentation of effort which acts  as a barrier to its efficient exploitation. By bringing together the various  stakeholders to create a unified, strategic approach, replacing fragmentation  and duplication with a focus on areas of agreed priority and common interest,  NANOfutures has played an invaluable role in promoting the rapid development of  nanotechnology – with its twin benefits of societal usefulness and enhanced  European competitiveness.

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