Significant investments have been made throughout Research Framework Programme 6 (FP6, 2003-2006) in long-term research in various fields of nanoscience. In many cases, these projects have produced results in the laboratory environment (for example in terms of desired properties), but the transfer of promising nanotechnology research results into new industrial technologies still represents a bottleneck.
In order to accelerate the introduction of nanotechnology-based products into markets and to stimulate the development of the European nanotechnology industry, the NMP theme invited proposals for “Nanotechnology Pilot Lines” in the first two calls of Research Framework Programme 7 (FP7, 2007-2010).
The projects are expected to focus on the development of innovative nanotechnology-based processes to pilot-line scales, in order to improve industrial processes and production lines. The projects are also expected to demonstrate how nanotechnology can significantly improve the value chain in industrial production towards high-added-value innovative products, thereby enhancing European competitiveness.
The calls were met with a good response from both the research and industrial communities. Seven projects have been funded, with $72 million (EUR 50 million). A further two pilot-line projects have been funded in the Production Technologies area of NMP, with $27.3 million (EUR 19 million), bringing the EU contribution to pilot lines to $99.3 million (EUR 69 million) (with a total investment of $141 million (EUR 98 million).
Collectively, these nine projects have over 150 participants, including 30 large industrial partners and 43 SMEs, making the industrial participation close to 50%. Technology demonstration is a significant component of these projects, with nearly a quarter of the effort dedicated to demonstration activities. To allow sufficient time for technology demonstration, most projects will run for four years. Safety and life cycle assessment are also taken into account.
As the objective of the pilot-line calls has been to support the progress of the most promising laboratory results towards industrial applications, they were not designed to be sector- or application-specific. As a result, they cover a wide range of applications and processes:
– Electrochromics for shading appliances;
– Atmospheric plasma deposition for nanoscale industrial surface processing;
– Atmospheric pressure plasma processing for 3D nanostructured surfaces;
– Nanopatterning based on nanoimprinting lithography;
– Antibacterial and antifungal medical textiles;
– Scale-up of the incorporation of nanoparticles in papermaking;
– Functional magnetic nanoparticle separation;
– Production of nanofluid coolants; and
– New generation of fluid lubricants incorporating nanomaterials.
A holistic approach is common for the projects covering, for example, (i) development of scalable nanomaterial production technologies; (ii) development of large-scale processing technologies that can be used with the produced nanomaterials; and (iii) technology integration and pilot-scale demonstration of real, industrial applications. Ensuring the safe production of nanomaterials, as well as the safety of the final application or product, forms an integral part of the projects.
The pilot-line projects are expected to result in significant improvements in productivity, sustainability, product quality and its control; and to demonstrate the economic viability of the use of nanotechnology in their respective application areas. As the projects are at a very early stage of implementation, it is premature to anticipate the results.
Apart from the dedicated pilot-line calls, several other projects target industrial applications: for example, CANAPE on the production of carbon nanotubes; AMBIO on nanostructured surfaces to control bio-fouling; and INDOT on the production of nanophotonic devices.
Turning to the general outlook for industrial applications, the second half of FP7 is expected to see a gradual shift towards more application-oriented research, as nanotechnologies developed in a laboratory environment evolve towards applications in various industrial sectors.
A shift is also expected towards call topics that are more specific to particular sectors or technologies, as part of the effort to generate critical mass and more strategic impact for selected application fields of high priority. The potential for nanotechnology-enabled industrial applications in different sectors is outlined in section