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Outcome of the Open Consultation on the European Strategy for Nanotechnology
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
www.nanoforum.org
December 2004

Authors: Ineke Malsch and Mireille Oud
Data management: Oliver Bayer, Michael Gleiche, Holger Hoffschulz
Inputs: Mark Morrison, Raymond Monk



Nanoforum is a thematic network funded by the European Commission under the Fifth Framework Programme (Growth programme, contract number G5RT-CT-2002-05084). The contents of this report are the responsibility of the authors.

The content of this report is based on information collected in a survey and supplied to Nanoforum in good faith by external sources believed to be accurate. No responsibility is assumed by Nanoforum for errors, inaccuracies or omissions.

This Nanoforum report is downloadable from www.nanoforum.org
Comments on this report are welcome and can be sent to mark@nanoforum.org

1 Executive summary

Nanotechnology is emerging as one of the key technologies of the 21st Century and is expected to enable developments across a wide range of sectors that can benefit citizens and improve industrial competitiveness. Worldwide public investment in research and development in nanotechnology (R&D) has risen from around €400 million in 1997 to some €3 billion today. However, there are concerns that some aspects of nanotechnology may introduce new health, environmental and societal risks, which need to be addressed.

In May 2004 the European Commission published the Communication “Towards a European Strategy for Nanotechnology” in which an integrated and responsible approach was advocated. This Communication has been discussed at the political level in the European Council under the Irish and Dutch Presidencies. The aim of the survey conducted by Nanoforum was to assess the wider response to the Commission’s proposed strategy and provide input to shape future European initiatives.

A total of 720 people participated in this survey via an online questionnaire at www.nanoforum.org , and an additional 29 wrote directly to the European Commission, bringing the total response to 749. The majority of the respondents were based in Europe (93%), with one third from Germany or the UK. From the respondents who filled in the online questionnaire, most respondents work in research (39%), or in a management role (29%) but a significant number of experts/consultants (13%) and journalists (12%) also participated. SME’s and large companies were also well represented (33%).

Most respondents are very much involved in nanotechnology either in R&D, the issues, or both. For many of the technical questions, the participants could choose not to reply. In those cases, we have excluded them from the total such that the percentages given in this executive summary reflect only those who expressed an opinion. The results not only represent the personal opinions of individuals, but also the views of 107 organisations (see annex I).

There is a large consensus that nanotechnology will have a strong impact on European industry (90%), and on European citizens (80%), within ten years. In terms of sectors, respondents expect the greatest impact on chemistry and materials (94%), followed by biotechnology (88%), information and communication technologies, ICT (79%), healthcare (77%) and security/defence (58%). Energy, environment, equipment engineering and consumer products are expected to have a moderate to high impact.

North America is perceived to be the world leader both in nanosciences (76%) and the transfer of nanotechnology to industry (77%), with Europe and Asia falling far behind. Most respondents believe that investment in nanotechnology in Europe R&D is lower (80%) than in the USA and Japan. In terms of R&D areas in nanotechnology, the EU should reinforce support for sensor applications, information and communication technologies, and health, safety, environment and societal issues.

Broad support was expressed for a significant increase in funding for nanotechnology in the next EU Framework Programme compared to the current one (79%). Some respondents (25%) wanted to see a doubling of the budget or more, while only 12% wanted the same budget or less. Divided opinions were expressed as to whether the EU Framework programme should be oriented more towards basic or more applied R&D – it depends upon whether the respondent is coming from a university, research organisation or industry.

Europe appears to be lacking a coherent system of infrastructure and the need for a critical mass was identified as the most critical issue (90%). The responses indicate that there is a need to raise awareness and exploitation of existing infrastructure. At the same time, the majority of respondents highlighted the need for new large infrastructure at European (64%) and national/regional level (34%). A number of suggestions were also received stressing the need for cross-disciplinary infrastructure in fields such as nanomedicine, nanomaterials and information technology/nanoelectronics.

Human resources was identified as a priority with almost one-half of participants in the survey indicating that there is likely to be a shortage of skilled personnel for nanotechnology within ten years and another quarter of participants in even five years. There is also an urgent need for development of nanotechnology education and training with 90% of participants indicating that interdisciplinarity is considered to be crucial. The EU policy aims of ‘mobility for researchers’; ‘further training opportunities’ and ‘equal opportunities for women’ are supported by a majority of respondents.

Consensus emerged that the EU needs an integrated strategy to be competitive in relation to other countries (85%), and that established industries must recognise the potential of nanotechnology early (70%). Almost half of the respondents feel that the EU, or international bodies, should regulate nanotechnology within 5 years (46%) or 10 years (25%). SME’s and start-ups are crucial as the main source for new jobs and innovation but face many difficulties including a lack of highly skilled personnel, effective cooperation with universities and research centres, a lack of public or private funding.

Many respondents agree that Europe needs to take account of risks and societal impact of nanotechnology from an early stage (75%), which requires communication and dialogue with the public. All parties involved must engage in informing the public including national/regional governments, the media and the European Commission. The importance of establishing a dialogue and the need to take into account the disruptive character of nanotechnology was also highlighted.

With regard to public health, safety, environmental and consumer protection, over 75% of respondents agreed that risk assessment must be integrated as early as possible in the R&D process and that such assessments should be carried out at EU level (61%). The priorities for more R&D to address knowledge gaps include free manufactures nanoparticles. Human exposure to these is deemed most important (72%), followed by environmental release (56%). Many respondents highlighted that nanoparticles are already present in nature through e.g. high-temperature combustion processes.

International cooperation with industrialised countries is important (96%). The majority of respondents are in favour of an international ‘code of conduct’ for the responsible development of nanotechnology (87%). Over three quarters of respondents are also in favour of collaborations with less developed countries, in particular to help them build research capacity and ensure an equitable transfer of knowledge.


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