Europe goes nano

International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology

ISSN: 0955-6222

Article publication date: 1 August 2004



Stylios, G.K. (2004), "Europe goes nano", International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology, Vol. 16 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Europe goes nano

IntroductionNanotechnology has been defined as the thorough three-dimensional structural control of materials, processes and devices at the atomic scale, or one billionth (US) of a metre (1×10-9m).

The ability to manipulate individual atoms and place them in a desired structure would lead to a new industrial revolution and completely change the way that most things are constructed. The potential benefits of nanotechnology are so compelling that over 30 countries are currently initiating national research and development initiatives.

The USA is leading the way by allocating over $800 million in funding through the 2004 National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). As a further sign of the technology's economic potential, in December 2003 President Bush signed a bill authorising $3.7 billion in federal funding for nanotechnology research at government labs, universities and private companies.

Japan is the second largest spender in nanotechnology research and development worldwide, and has been investing in the technology since the 1980s. In 2002, it provided roughly $750 million in funding.

Germany, Switzerland and the UK lead the way in Europe, and the EU has focused at nanotechnology in the sixth framework programme.

Germany, the most active EU country in nanotechnology, provided over e110 million in funding in 2003 and has set-up “Nanonet” competence networks in which research institutes, industries and SMEs collaborate. Switzerland has done much the same thing with its TOPNano21 programme and the French are setting up a similar structure.

In the UK, the government is investing £90 million over the next 6 years into the research, development and commercialisation of nanotechnology, with an additional £200 million expected to come from industry and regional spending sources. The funding will help set-up a new network of micro and nanotechnology facilities and aid collaborative research. A University Innovation Centre in Microsystems and nanotechnology has been set-up at the Universities of Newcastle and Durham.

By 2006, the nanobio market is expected to grow to $36 billion a year, a three-fold increase from the present. Uses include in drug delivery systems, diagnosis systems, microchip retinal implant to help visually impaired people to see better, and others.

The market for nanomaterials and surfaces is estimated to be $5-20 billion within the next 5 years (currently $150 million). There are presently around 80 companies dealing with nanomaterials and nanosurfaces as a whole. One can find uses of nanocomposites in cars, paints and coatings for eyeglasses, tiles, electronic windscreens and windows. Uses of carbon nanotubes can be found as substitutes for carbon fibres in construction materials, airplane fuselage, etc. other special uses such as the following.

  • Nanotextiles. Soldier's outfits (recently the US army signed a $50 million contract with MIT for the application of nanotechnology for military uniforms), e.g. climate outfits adapting to all conditions, stainless fabrics. Catalysts.

  • Electronics and IT area. Nano-based computing, nanochips – pushing beyond the limits of silicones.

  • Instrumentation. Atomic force microscopes, nuclear magnetic resonance, molecular beam epitaxy, laser tweezers, nanomanipulator.

The European dimensionThe European Union, which will be soon enlarged to 25 member states, develops the research strategy for Europe every few years and deploys it under its known frameworks. Each framework carries stipulations of how to bid for research funds under priority themes, which have been agreed by the ministers for being the strategic areas that will make the EU more competitive and improve the quality of life. Last year, the commission launched and deployed its 6th framework programme to the community in which the nanotechnology theme was read as follows.

European Commission FP6 Programme. Nanotechnologies and nanosciences, knowledge-based multifunctional materials and new production processes and devices: thematic priority 3 under the Focusing and Integrating Community Research Programme 2002-2006 (three main areas).

  • Objectives. Help Member states, candidate countries and other associated countries to achieve a critical mass of capacities needed to develop and exploit leading edge technologies for the knowledge- and intelligence-based products, services and manufacturing processes of the years to come.Start Date: 30 September 2002, End Date: 31 December 2006Programme funding: 1,300 million Euros

  • Objective. Help to maintain a competitive position for Europe in manufacturing on a global scale in the next 10-15 years. Accepting that Europe will not be able to compete in a market based on labour rates alone, and in line with the Lisbon Council objectives of developing a knowledge-based economy, the priority concentrates on technologies that will transform manufacturing industry in the medium to long-term.

  • Nanotechnologies and nanosciences. Objective is to promote the creation of an RTD-intensive European nanotechnology related industry and to promote uptake of nanotechnologies in existing sectors. Research should be industry oriented, but may be long-term and high risk.

This time research organisations were asked to think of big projects with large collaborations. But however big the collaborations were, or however good the projects have been, as it transpires from the close of the first round of calls, the commission went “mad” over nanoproject themes. So much so that some sceptics have said that as long as a project had nanojargon in it, it was put forward to funding.

Despite the fact that 104 projects have been funded under the previous Framework 5 calls were from nanotechnology, in the new Framework 6 in the general priority 3 groups, which involves nanotechnologies, 141 projects have been selected for funding. Although the EU has been slow in providing detailed information on the funded projects it is believed that a lot of nano-based projects have been accepted may be at the expense of other good projects in textiles and clothing.

In June 2003, there were 100 EU and non-EU funded networks in nanotechnologies, of which 60 are national, i.e. have only or predominantly members from a single country. The other 40 networks are international. The majority of the networks are relatively small, with only up to ten partners.

Distribution of networks over research areas are as follows.

  • nanotechnology for structural applications (nanopowdered ceramics, composite materials containing nanocrystals or powders, materials based on carbon nanotubes or fullerenes, nanoparticulate coatings, nanostructure metals and alloys, others),

  • nanotechnology for information processing, storage and transmission (nanoelectronics, materials and devices, opto-electronics/optical materials and devices, magnetic materials and devices, organic opto-electronics, nanomechanical devices and materials, others),

  • nanobiotechnology (drug encapsulation, targeted drug delivery, molecular recognition, bio-compatible materials and layers, molecular analysis, DNA analysis, biological/inorganic interfaces and hybrids, diagnostics, molecular recognition, others),

  • nanotechnology for chemical applications (filtration, catalysts or electrodes with nanostructured surface, chemical synthesis, supra-molecular chemistry, other) and sensor applications (nanostructured sensors, sensors based on biological molecules, others),

  • long-term research with generic applications (self-assembly, quantum physics, mesoscopic systems, chemical, interfacing to organic/biological molecules, ultra-precision engineering, others), and

  • instruments and equipment, supporting science and technologies, analytical equipment and techniques, powder production and processing, deposition equipment and techniques, patterning equipment and techniques, ultra-precision metrology, etc.

The use of nanotechnologies in textiles is strategic and are allowing textiles to become multifunctional. The next generation of textiles will be based on scientific knowledge and we have to nurture this aspect. For instance, plasma technology is being used to modify the top nanometer layers of textiles, allowing them to be made antibacterial, fungicidal and water repellent. Other areas of interest include heat resistant and mechanically resilient work wear, ballistic protection, sensors and camouflage. Textiles and nanotechnology is already an area of tremendous potential for added value products. IJCST recognising the importance of nanotechnology will be dedicating a special issue for textile-based research papers underpinned by nanotechnology. Any technical paper that reports on nanotechnology for textile research is welcome.

George K. StyliosEditor-in-Chief

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