Brussels, 30 Jun 2006
REPORT on Nanosciences and nanotechnologies: An action plan for Europe 2005-2009
Your Rapporteur supports the objectives and actions set out in the Action plan. Nanosciences and nanotechnologies are an area with highly promising prospects for the future. Successful innovations in this sector open the door to applications which address the needs of the citizens and contribute to the Union's competitiveness and sustainable development objectives. At the same time, your Rapporteur stresses the fact that a decisive leap in (coordination of) investment for research and innovation is needed. Due to its interdisciplinary, complex and costly nature, the infrastructure for R&D and innovation in nanosciences and nanotechnologies requires a certain critical mass of resources that are beyond the means of regional and often even national governments and industry. However, at the same time, Member States should ensure that on national scale nanotechnology R&D policies are in place that allow a more rapid reaction to changing opportunities than is possible from the Europe-wide programmes. Currently, research in the field of nanosciences is too scattered in the EU without a clear coordination of resources. R&D in nanosciences and nanotechnologies, both on Community level and at the level of the Member States, should thus be reinforced and coordinated in order to achieve the necessary economies of scale without losing the necessary flexibility. Overall spending at global level on R&D in the field of nanosciences and nanotechnologies is estimated to stand at around € 8 billion per year, of which approximately 37% was spent in the US, 28% in Japan and 24% in Europe. The per capita public investment in the EU-25 in 2004 was € 3, compared to € 4½ in the US and € 6 in Japan. In the field of private investment, Europe lags even more behind with approximately € 1½ per capita private investment, compared to almost € 6 in the US and more than € 12 in Japan. Future spending will not change this picture drastically. The amount proposed in the 7th Framework Programme for 'Nanosciences, Nanotechnologies, Materials and new Production Technologies' is € 40 million for 7 years (thus € 610 million per year). In comparison: The USA government is intending to spend in 2006 alone more than $ 1 billion on R&D in the field of nanotechnologies. Further cuts on R&D-funding in the EU will bring Europe even further away from meeting the Lisbon-goals. According to your Rapporteur, world-class R&D infrastructure and 'poles of excellence' are essential for the EU to remain competitive in this highly promising sector. But this is not enough. European industry, R&D organisations, universities and financial institutions should work together to ensure that excellence in research is translated into commercially viable and inherently safe products and processes. Without this 'commercialisation of knowledge', Europe does not fully reap the synergy between education, research, and innovation, the 'triangle of knowledge' so desperately needed for the European Research Area. A weak knowledge transfer has a negative impact on both the corporate funding of academic research and on start-up activity. To fully reap this synergy between education, research, and innovation, it is necessary to address the skills shortage and lack of trained personnel by increased emphasis on natural science training and by attracting more students into science-related and multidisciplinary subjects. Furthermore, it is important to further improve the business climate for nanotechnology companies by strengthening the market for venture capital and by defining markets in terms of a clear regulatory framework and a good protection of intellectual property. Standards provide a level playing field for markets and international trade and are prerequisites for fair competition, comparative risk assessments and regulatory measures. The protection of intellectual property rights is essential for innovation both in terms of attracting initial investment and for ensuring future revenue. Also, regulatory clarity is necessary to strengthen innovation. All applications and use of nanosciences and nanotechnologies must of course comply with the current high level of public health, safety, consumers and workers protection, and environmental protection. However, unclear toxicology- and liability-regulation unnecessarily holds back the adoption of nanotechnologies in Europe.
Furthermore, international cooperation in nanosciences and nanotechnologies is needed, both with countries that are economically and industrially advanced, as with those less advanced to secure their access to knowledge and avoid any 'nano divide' or 'knowledge apartheid'. Particular attention must be paid to cooperation with countries covered by the European Neighbourhood Policy and those with existing S&T cooperation agreements. Public concerns Nanotechnology is leaping technical hurdles, but ultimately its success will depend on winning over consumers. The very aspects that make nanosciences so exciting - novel properties emerging at this scale and the ability to subtly and precisely modify these properties - raise questions about how these new substances will behave in the environment, including the human body. Uncertainties by the general public about health, safety and environmental effects can restrict available capital and prevent companies from launching products involving nanotechnologies. The coming years will therefore be decisive in demonstrating that researchers and industry take those concerns seriously. An essential element of a responsible strategy for nanosciences and nanotechnologies is to integrate not only the economic and environmental elements, but also the social, health and safety aspects to the technological development of nanotechnologies. Industry should be encouraged to take into account the wider impact of their commercial activities in nanotechnologies according to the concepts of Corporate Social Responsibility and the 'triple bottom line'-reporting of the Global Reporting Initiative. An effective dialogue should be established with all stakeholders, informing about progress and expected benefits, and taking into account expectations and concerns, both real and perceived, so to steer developments on a path that avoids negative societal impact. It is necessary to prepare an appropriate multilingual information material for different age groups to raise awareness for nanosciences and nanotechnologies and to further develop the dialogue with the public at appropriate level, in particular via the media.
International Currently, the US is the acknowledged leader in nanotechnologies R&D at global level, with annual public and private investment of US $ 3 billion, accounting for more than one third of world spending. The US also comes first in the number of business start-ups, publications and patents. Over the five years between the end of 2000 and the present, the federal government of the US has invested more than $ 4 billion in nanotechnologies and for 2006 the yearly figure will go up to more than $ 1 billion. Annual spending in Japan in 2003 stood at about € 630 million, with 73% provided by the Ministry of Education and 21% by the Ministry for the Economy, Trade and Industry. Research is focused primarily on nanomaterials, for example applications of nanocarbon materials in the field of energy, environment, IT, and biomedical. In terms of nanotechnologies venture capital, Mitsui has decided to invest almost € 700 million over the next four years, while the Critical Technology Fund will channel some € 30 billion to nanosciences and nanotechnologies research. The rapid development of China's nanotechnology industry in the past 5 to 10 years is due in large part to the intervention of the central government. Added to a list of priority technologies at the end of the 1990s, nanotechnology has enjoyed state funding since then through a national R&D plan, providing significant investments for nanotechnology projects from both the central and local governments, mainly in the field of nanomaterials. On-going projects include mass production of nano-diamond coating materials, carbon nanotubes and nanowires, sensor network systems for security monitoring, nanomaterials for energy-saving, self-cleaning, chemical and bio sensor systems and network for environment monitoring and disease diagnosis. According to the Chinese authorities, the country is one of the world's leaders in terms of new nanotechnology business registrations, publications and patents, with an internal market for nanotechnology products and systems estimated at more than € 4.5 billion, and set to grow to more than € 120 billion by 2015. However, the industry is still in an early stage, with considerable challenges in the field of research commercialization, infrastructure and human resources.