Governments lead the charge for nano’s development in Asia

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July 22, 2005 — Nanotechnology in emerging economies in Asia has been driven mostly by government policies and strategies. Governments of rising Asian nanotech giants like China, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan are investing heavily in research, encouraging academia–industry collaboration and providing incentives for commercialization of nanotechnologies. While there is increasing corporate investment in nanotech in these countries, governments continue to provide the bulk of funds and support resources. Asia is also witnessing a steady shift toward applied research, and new startups and incumbents are starting to bring exciting nanotech products to market.

The discovery of carbon nanotubes at NEC Corp.’s research lab in Japan helped spark global interest in nanotechnology. Japan remains a world leader, and enjoys a commanding lead in terms of investment and commercialization of nanotechnologies in the Asia-Pacific region, with close to $1 billion spent under the Nanotechnology and Materials Program. But other Asian countries are catching up.

South Korea’s government aims to invest $2.36 billion in R&D, infrastructure and training between 2001 and 2011. Singapore spent $37 million on nanotech research under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in 2003. India has so far allocated about $26 million to nanotechnology research under the National Program on Smart Materials and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

China’s Ministry of Science and Technology invested $25.36 million from 2001 to 2005 in nanotech research, under the 863 Hi-Tech R&D Plan for funding high-priority technologies. The Chinese government announced plans in June to massively increase its spending on nanotech, and will build a research center to integrate the R&D efforts of the country’s top institutions, such as the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing University and several others.

Taiwan regards nanotechnology as the new rising star, and will pump $630 million into its research between 2003 and 2008. Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute has invested $290 million in a Center for Applied Nanotechnology Institutes, which will initially focus its research efforts on 11 areas.

In all of the rising Asian giants, the focus is shifting from basic to applied research. Asian governments increasingly encourage market-driven research, and seek to build bridges between publicly funded research labs and the private sector. There are also efforts to encourage nanotech startups.

In South Korea, the government has earmarked $380 million for an industrial R&D fund and a venture capital fund. The Korean government aims to develop 10 nanotechnologies by 2010, and has identified a set of “core” technologies, including nanostructured materials and nanoscale mechatronics. Data released by the Korean government indicate a sharp rise in nanotech patent applications and the number of startups.

The Chinese government has set up nanotech industry bases at Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin to encourage technology transfer as well as nanotech spinoffs and startups. Reports in 2003 by Thomas Derwent and APEC ranked China third in the world (behind the U.S. and Japan) in terms of nanotech publications and patents, and many of these patented technologies are being commercialized. According to China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, there are more than 800 nanotech companies in China.

In India, government initiatives like the planned Nanoscience and Technology Centers of Excellence aim to bring together academia and industry, to spur market-driven research and nanotech products. International collaborations such as IndiaNano, an alliance between the Indian community in Silicon Valley and R&D institutions in India, also encourage applied research. India’s expertise lies in chemical synthesis and characterization techniques.

Taiwan expects to create an $8.8 billion nanotech industry by 2008. The National Nano-Device Laboratory, part of Taiwan’s National Applied Research Laboratories, focuses on nanodevices and provides foundry services to attract industry participation. Taiwan also has a strategy for developing nanotech talent, with nanotechnology being taught as early as in high school.

In Singapore, the focus of three nanotech-related labs at A*STAR include nanomaterials and bionanotechnology. Singapore’s Economic Development Board encourages technology transfer from these labs and from research labs within Singapore’s two technological universities, and funds startups and international joint ventures.

With the growing interest in applied research and the push for products, Asia’s high-quality research institutes are commercializing their technologies more and more. Asian players with nanotech products now range from giants like Japan’s Mitsubishi, which makes nano-enhanced computer monitors, to Chinese startup Shenzhen Nanoport, which mass-produces carbon nanotubes. Though still some way behind the U.S. and Japan, several Asian nations are fast-rising powers in nanotech.


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