“Something Should Be Done” – Nanotechnology: a UK Industry View

The new report “Nanotechnology: a UK Industry View” finally surfaced, and its recommendations are to spend more money, develop more skills, have more dialogue and..sorry, I must have nodded off, but it’s pretty standard stuff, and the recommendations are exactly the same as every other nanotech report produced over the past ten years.

I have to question why we go through this process again and again and again, with each report calling for the same things and nothing ever changing. We need to establish a few ground rules if UK nanotechnology is ever going to break out of it’s post Oxonica rut:

  1. Stop calling for more government money to be spent on stuff, it is as effective as wring a letter to Santa Claus. Unless you have been living in a cave (or an ivory tower) for the past year you will know that the UK government doesn’t have any, and the little it has left will go on ring fencing politically significant projects such as the National Health Service.  Forking over huge sums to an ‘industry’ that has been characterised by hype followed by spectacular crashes simply isn’t going to happen, no matter how many reports get written.
  2. Stop calling for The Government to do something – in this case “assisting the banking and insurance companies in understanding nanotechnology to enable sound investments to be made.” The Government won’t exist after May, and until then no one will have much interest in nanotechnology compared to saving their careers. If you want the Government to do something useful, ask them to make sure that a business and innovation friendly climate exists.
  3. Stop expecting anyone to do take any action as a result of educating and informing people about nanotechnology. No banker or investor is interested in being educated about nanotechnology, but we all love good business ideas.
  4. Get out of the ghetto. The UK nanotechnology industry only exists in the mind of people who produce reports like this. Creating an artificial entity just so that targets can be set and measured is pointless and there are far more effective ways of measuring the impact of a technology on an economy.
  5. Make the best use of existing resources – we have a variety of nanotech facilities already up and running (although I’m still not quite sure Nanoforce is supposed to do, something with the creative industries?) so it should be possible to  leverage entrepreneurial expertise and external cash to make sure that these can create the economic impact that was undoubtedly promised in their initial funding applications.

Anyway, here’s their version….

POLICY AND REGULATION

1. Nanotechnology innovation and exploitation is business driven.The department responsible for leading and coordinating nanotechnology activities across Government should be the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to ensure investment provides added value for the UK.

2. TheTechnology Strategy Board must implement its NanoscaleTechnologies Strategy with specific funded calls to deliver commercialisation of value adding nanotechnology based products.

3. Government should address the need for responsible development of all emerging technologies, including nanotechnologies, by putting in place a framework through which product risk assessments can be carried out alongside industry’s need to focus on innovation.

4. Defra, other Government Departments, relevant KTNs and trade associations should engage with industry to ensure the effective operation of a simplified Voluntary Reporting Scheme in the UK for nanomaterials and to work with EU regulators to ensure ongoing REACh regulations take account of nanotechnology fully and effectively.

SKILLS

1. Develop world class professional education programmes at all levels covering all aspects of nanotechnology.

2. Improve and promote vocational training in nanotechnology from technician level to develop individuals with the skills and expertise to support commercialisation of nanotechnology in the UK.

FUNDING

1. Provide more accessible and commercially focussed funding for SMEs as well as larger companies engaged in the development of nanotechnology based products to support innovation in the UK.

2. Invest in key establishments and organisations to build world class capability in nanotechnology product development.

3. Provide funding for cross-sectoral initiatives to apply developments achieved in one sector to other sectors and applications.

4. Continue to invest in standardisation activities to maintain UK leadership in creating international standards for nanotechnology and National Measurement System facilities.

5. Continue to support knowledge transfer activities to deliver innovation in nanotechnology and pull through academic research into commercial applications.

ENGAGEMENT

1. Ensure that the general public is informed of product developments based on nanotechnology.

2. Industry and Government should engage in an evidence based dialogue with the Unions and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

3. Provide support for two-way international collaboration to gather and share information on nanotechnology.

4. Government and industry should assist banking and insurance companies in understanding nanotechnology to enable sound investments to be made.

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