The main objectives of this study are to
Identify the key factors which influenced positively or negatively economic competitiveness during the last 20 years.
Elaborate and use a quantitative model based on the main past quantitative and qualitative key factors and derive different future scenarios around 2025.
Analyse the influence of key factors and trends on crucial economic and NMP-specific aspects to assess the role of NMP under this framework around 2025.
Assess the European position and critical parameters likely to affect the competitiveness of EU industry around 2025 in order to derive recommendations on technologies, research and policies needed to maintain or improve the European position.
Past and future NMP trends and key factors for competitiveness can be identified in the following fields or categories:
Resources: There has been an exploitive use of natural resources in the past and shortages, more difficult access and/or increasing materials as well as energy prices are expected in the future. NMP has the potential to increase resource efficiency by reducing the use of (critical) resources (e. g. by nano), substitute (critical) material (e. g. limited, toxic) and re-use strategic relevant resources e.g. by means of closed-loop production (life cycle, recycling) in the future. Especially high value materials are needed in particular in the chemicals sector. Also, the electronics and photonics sectors make use of strategic materials like Indium (e. g. as ITO in display technology or thin film CIGS in photovoltaics). Especially, if there is a need for a large amount of resources and the access to them might be critical (e. g. rare earth elements in China, Cobalt for lithium-ion batteries in the Congo, etc.), alternative technologies with substitute materials will gain importance (e. g. graphene to substitute the ITO conductive coating). According to expert assessments NMP may also contribute significantly to an increase in energy efficiency in some energy intensive sectors in the future (e. g. chemicals). With respect to human resources, in the past there has been a decline of researchers specialising in key areas directly linked to NMP. Therefore, human capital could be a restricting factor to the NMP development in the future and will likely gain importance.
Innovation: International competitiveness in NMP-technologies is decisive to gain the related economic benefits. This requires a strong research base fueling the innovative ideas of tomorrow. Europe has been strong in NMP-funding, built-up of R&D networks clusters, and platforms in the past. In terms of NMP patents, Europe has a global share of around 40%. These shares are varying from sector to sector, in machinery, photonics/instruments and automotive they reach even around 50%. The patent analyses over time indicate that, whereas in all analysed sectors the number of NMP patents has increased since the late 1990s, there has been a world wide stagnation and downturn in recent years. For all sectors a peak can be observed in the dynamics with a decline in strength of patent applications beginning with 2000 or later (depending on the specific sector). The overall interpretation is, that there is a cyclical long-term behaviour of NMP, as has been observed, for example, for the case of nanotechnology already (Schmoch/ Thielmann 2012). For the future, a new increase of patent activities would be expected, related to maturing NMP technologies and accompanied commercialisation of NMP-products in the different sectors.
Commercialisation: However, for early NMP applications there is still a gap in Europe between basic knowledge generation, innovative R&D and the subsequent production and commercialisation of the knowledge in marketable and requested products across sectors. This is reflected by often still moderate firm creation (e.g. compared to the USA), underdeveloped NMP production infrastructures like pilot lines or production facilities for upscaling from laboratory levels to the industrial scale. Moreover, there is a need for stronger integration of related (partly new or still unformed) value chains. Regarding economic impact, NMP applications and products may substitute existing products and value chains but also new markets may be created, which extend the total demand in the economy. Unsurprisingly, there is a great variation between the various NMP applications. Altogether, there is potential for Europe especially in high-tech related and high-knowledge intensive production processes in the future.
Demand: There is an increasing demand of the consumer and society for safe and environmental friendly technologies, which often correlates with the need for substitution of (critical or toxic) materials in chemicals as well as electronics and photonics. This finally impacts the machinery and automotive sectors. However, potential impacts of nanotechnology on environment, health, safety (EHS) have been discussed widely, since there is a wide-spread concern of potential negative effects from nanotechnology. In some sectors (e. g. chemicals or the bio and pharma sector) there is a more pronounced sensibility, when using the term nanotechnology, as an early mishap associated with nanotechnology could eventually terminate technology funding and demand abruptly.