Nanotechnology in Germany

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The leading European country in nanotech, with an integrated strategy and mass commercialization. 

Germany is streets ahead of every European nation in terms of nanotechnology infrastructure and commercialization. The recent Action Plan seeks to build on this well-established capability.

Gemany is the leading European country in terms of funding and commercializing nanotechnology, ranking third behind the USA and Japan. Around 1000 companies have nanotech R&D and commercialization activities. The majority of nanotech companies are small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) and start-ups, with than 60,000 nanotech jobs in industry. In 2007, the turnover in nanotechnology generated by Germany-based enterprises worldwide was around 33 billion Euros according to Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF, www.bmbf.de).

Federal funding for nanotechnology is more than 500 million Euros per annum when the Lander (state) level funding is included, ranking Germany fifth behind the USA, Russia, China and Japan. Federal funding was around 400 million Euros in 2011, and 440 million Euros in 2010. In terms of scientific publications, Germany also ranks fourth behind the USA, China and Japan. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development  (OECD) ranks Germany third behind the USA and Japan in nanotechnology patenting.The Federal Ministry of Research and Education (BMBF) is the main driver and the main source of public funding for nanotechnology, and has been for over a decade.  Research organizations act as project management agencies for nanotech activities funded by the ministries.

The Federal Government’s “Nanotechnology 2015 Action Plan” (www.bmbf.de/pub/akionsplan_nanotechnologie_2015_en.pdf) carries on from the “Nano-Initiative – Action Plan 2010”, which started in 2006. The Action Plan focuses research and research funding on the societal challenges addressed in the National High-Tech Strategy. This encompasses climate and energy, health and nutrition, mobility, security and communication. Economic exploitation, responsible use, a regulatory framework and a public discussion are also important elements of the plan.

Research in Germany

The main research bodies in Germany for basic nanotech research are the institutes of the Max-Planck-Society (focus is on nanomaterials, supramolecular systems or characterization methods, the Helmholtz Association (integration of nano and micro systems as well as operating national initiatives in nanotechnology), Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (industrially orientated nanomaterials) and the Leibniz Association (nanomaterials, surfaces and opto- and nanoelectronic properties), coupled with extensive activities at all German Universities. As well as the funding these institutions receive from federal and state budgets they also contribute approximately 90 million euros of their own funds to nanotechnology R&D.

Networks

Germany also extensively funds research clusters and post-graduate research programmes. Networks and Centres of competence include:

• Nanotechnology Centre of Competence “Ultrathin Functional Films” (www.nanotechnology.de/eng/s02.html)

• CC-NanoChem / NanoBioNet – Networks for Chemical Nanotechnology / Nanobiotechnology (www.nanobionbet.de)

• ENNaB – Excellence Network NanoBioTechnology (www.ennab.de)

• CCN – Competence Center for Nanoanalytics (www.centech.de)

• IVAM Microtechnology Network (www.ivam.de)

• HanseNanoTec Competence Centre (www.hansenanotec.de)

• UPOB – Competence Centre Ultraprecise Surface Figuring (www.upob.de)

• NanoMat (www.nanomat.de)

• NanOp – Competence Centre for the Application of Nanostructures in Optoelectronics (www.nanoop.de).

The Innovation Alliance Carbon Nanotubes (www.inno-cnt.de ) is a coordination initiative between 90 research and industrial partners with a budget of 90 million Euros between 2008-2014. BMBF’s WINGS technology program (Materials Innovation for Industry and Society) focuses on materials science. It has two specific initiatives for nanomaterials, both of which are coordinated by VDI, NanoMatFutur (2011-2013) and NanoMatTextil (2011-2013).

High Technology Strategy

The Federal Government’s strategy in nanotechnology is related to the key areas of the high technology strategy, which are:

• Climate and Energy

• Health and Food

• Mobility

• Safety and Security/Communication

• ICT.

Strategic goals of which nanotechnology is viewed as a key enabling technology are:

• Protect the environment and climate, secure energy supply and create a knowledge-based bioeconomy

• Utilize the possibilities for health

• Utilize the possibilities for agriculture and food safety

• Achieve environmental and energy-saving mobility.

Innovation is supported with special emphasis on SMEs and development of value chains. Risk assessment is incorporated as well as improvement of boundary conditions such as educating a workforce, legislation, norms and standards. The public dialogue on nanotechnology will also be intensified including information and dialogue with citizens as well as stakeholders and NGOs to debate the opportunities and risks of nanotechnology. As part of the Action Plan, the need to develop appropriate regulation and standards for nanotechnologies is included as a priority. A ‘NanoCommission’ was established by the German government during the last Action Plan with a view to “contributing to a responsible approach to nano-technology by developing communication between operators of the technology development from science, economy and politics with societal operators”.

Commercialization

The federal government supports nanotechnology companies seeking to develop marketable products. Patenting and consequently applied research within nanotechnology in Germany is dominated by industry. The leading German companies in this arena are BASF SE (www.basf.com), Bayer AG (www.baytubes.com), Infineon Technologies AG (www.infineon.com), Henkel KGaA (www.henkel.com), Siemens AG (www.siemens.com), Evonik (http://corporate.evonik.com), Robert Bosch GmbH (www.bosch.com)and Merck KGaA (www.merckgroup.com). Most of these companies are materials producers. Application developers tend to be smaller companies and account for 80% of the nanotech firms in Germany according to BMBF. Main areas of commercialization are in electronics, pharmaceuticals, coatings and inks, ceramics, polmyers and composites. It is estimated that half of European companies with nanotechnology activities are based in Germany.

According to a report published by BMBF in 2011 www.bmbf.de/pub/nanoDE-Report_2011.pdf), the number of players involved in research & development, production and services in nanotechnology in Germany has risen continuously in recent years to its current level of 1,800, including around 1,000 companies. Approximately 10,000 scientists work at around 600 universities and research institutions in publicly-financed research in the nanotechnology segment in Germany. At present, 64,000 employees are working on industrial applications of nanotechnology. Details on German companies can be found at www.nano-map.de.

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