Upsurge in nanotechnology products translates into nanoprofits
Make-up and medicines, toothpaste and telephones, nanotech products are all around us, and their number is increasing all the time. So what can you buy for your hard-earned nanobucks, and where?
Nanotechnology reminds me of the first man on the moon, or the death of Lennon. Many of remember where we were when it happened, and I also remember being more than impressed by the very first demonstration I saw of the future possibilities of nanotechnology, in the form of a short Nokia ad featuring its version of a future nanophone. It seemed like science fiction come true at the time.
Things have changed quickly since then, and past claims of an eco-friendly wonder discovery and dreams of nanoprofits have metamorphosed into enormous potential markets as well as a backlash consisting of an increasing amount of research which points towards potential health and environment risks linked to nanotech products and their development.
As things stand though, the huge increase in the number of nanoproducts on the market is proof if ever proof were needed that nanotechnology is here to stay, in one way or another.
The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) is an American foundation which monitors the potential risks and benefits of nanotechnologies. Launched in 2005, the foundation recently revealed that they have identified over a thousand marketed nanotech products for the first time. That represents an enormous increase, 379 percent, over 2006 figures.
They found 155 clothing items, 137 cosmetic products, 33 suntan lotions, shampoos, toothpastes, painkillers and treatments for acne amongst others. Sixty percent of all nanotech products are related to the health and well-being markets.
Next come home and garden upkeep and cleaning products, paints, cleaning fluids, air purifiers, pillows, anti-foot odor and other antibacterial products, impermeable handbags and luggage.
In third place come food-linked products, including a coffee-aromatized “bionic” food supplement, slimming and anti-ageing supplements, vitamins in spray form, “light” chocolate, and – intriguingly – a brand of “maternal water” which is said to have been filtered using nanoparticles of silver “without chemical treatment” and is aimed at the mother-and-newborn market.
There are 68 products in the automobile sector, particularly exterior treatments designed top combat water damage, including rust, and bodywork items for the elimination of marks and scratches.
Telephones are present of course, most notably the iPod’s memory and the iPhone’s battery, as are Intel’s Core 2 Duo CPU’s, OLED screens and IBM chips.
Babies haven’t been forgotten either, and mothers can now treat them to “nanotechnologied” dummies, feeding bottles, toothpastes and even an antibacterial teddy bear.
Perhaps the strangest of all the products is an nanotech anti-bark dog collar which sends an electrical “reminder” to the wearer every time it detects a bark.
The market for consumer-related products using nanotechnology was estimated to be worth $147 billion in 2006. Latest PEN figures indicate that that figure could well rocket up to $310 billion in 2012.
Products available include 540 American brands, 240 come from Southeast Asia, and 154 are of European origin, of which 17 are French (two tennis rackets and fifteen perfumes and other cosmetic products.)
In an earlier study which took place in June 2009, the PEN counted 1200 companies, universities and laboratory facilities working on the development and commercialization of nanoproducts in the United States.
And what of the prospects for Europe in this exploding market?
I would be only too pleased to offer the reader figures relating to European development efforts in nanotechnology but, true to its well-deserved reputation of being chronically incapable of organizing and quantifying research into new technologies (remember computers, the Internet and biotechnologies?) there are no figures available.
Even the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a pan-European organization present in all 27 EU member states which is supposed to monitor environmental policies, promote responsible environmental attitudes and provide a sounding-board for individual countries’ reactions to European environmental initiatives, has come up empty-handed.
In a report on the impact of nanomaterials on health and the environment, the EEB was forced to recognize that there is no reliable data concerning which nanoproducts are produced in Europe and in which quantities, or even where those products are tested, and by whom.
It is becoming clear that, whatever form it takes, and whatever the health and environmental issues which need to be addressed and resolved, the future of nanotechnologies is no longer in question, if indeed it ever was. And, once again, the United States is the largest player by far in a technological field which will have a marked effect on the way we live.