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NanoCentral - A gateway to market

As world-class experts in nanomaterials technology, NanoCentral offers a range of solutions and services to help business get their goods to market

The innovation process is generally poorly understood, but is the core process underpinning the emergence of new products and services. New products such as low-energy lighting or scratch-resistant touch screens don?t come out of thin air. They are the end point of an often unrecognised innovation process.

The UK is good at the starting point of the process, namely science-based discovery especially within universities. The UK spends about £3bn per year on basic research and is among the leading countries in filing patents and gaining Nobel prizes. However, it has a poorer record in converting the science into technology and an even poorer record in translating that technology into marketable products. Typically, the process from science to market takes about seven years and every £1 invested in basic research requires another £64 before the product reaches the market.

The UK is weakest in the translational step that ?proves? the technology can be made to work at industrial scale, although there are a few specialist organisations such as The Centre for Process Innovation and The Welding Institute, who can assist in de-risking that step of the process. This compares with 60+ state supported Fraunhofer institutes in Germany, the VTT institute in Finland and the likes of Battelle in the US, with its multi-billion-dollar turnover. The use of such translational bodies significantly reduces the risk (and cost) of scale-up. Governments and development agencies in the UK have a role to play in helping the translation of publicly- funded science into wealth-creating industry. Some RDAs such as One North East already play such a role.

Let us explore an example of the process: the use of nanoparticles by industry. The UK government in the early years of this century launched an initiative to help the UK benefit from the emerging field of nanotechnology. Much of nanotechnology is delivered by structuring materials at the nanometre scale. (A nanometer (nm) is one thousand millionth of a meter: for comparison, a red blood cell is approximately 7,000 nm wide; a water molecule is almost 0.3nm across; a human hair is 80,000 nm wide.) People were interested in the nanoscale (which we define to be from 100nm down to the size of atoms (approximately 0.2nm)) because at this scale the properties of materials can be very different from those at larger scale.

The Creation of NanoCentral

A significant part of this UK government intervention was the creation of an expert industrial alliance now known as NanoCentral in July 2006. NanoCentral was designed to rectify a market failure in the supply chain for nano-particulate materials. Such materials are forecast to play an increasingly crucial role in market sectors as diverse as pharmaceuticals, plastics, inks, coatings and electronics so NanoCentral has an important job.

Their use offers enormous potential for new product innovation, which in turn creates substantial customer benefits, adding value to brands, refreshing products nearing the end of life and delivering entirely new products to meet evolving needs. For manufacturers, nanomaterials can shorten the production process, save energy and raw materials and increase efficiency.

The supply chain from synthesis, dispersion and characterisation of the nanomaterials into formulated products was incomplete, had a high capital cost of entry and lacked some key processing steps. The NanoCentral operation, critically, was hosted within The Centre for Process innovation, which provides engineering support and translational expertise. Government provided funding of capital assets at the semi-technical scale on an open-access basis facilitated greatly reduced cost of market entry for smaller companies. In essence, instead of each new entrant having to invest in equipment in the early stages of development, they could use government-funded assets on a day-rate basis.

The Aim of NanoCentral

NanoCentral has become the pivotal gateway for businesses seeking to improve existing products and develop new products using nanomaterials to connect with a network of key technology providers. The aim of NanoCentral has been simple: to accelerate the safe commercial use of nanomaterials by constructing a co-ordinated and reliable supply chain. Backed by the Technology Strategy Board, the Regional Development Agency, One North East and the Centre for Process Innovation, NanoCentral is based in the traditional heart of the science and chemical sector on Teesside at the Wilton Centre.

As world-class experts in nanomaterials technology, NanoCentral can overcome problems that companies are already facing, or assist them develop innovative bespoke solutions. Not only can NanoCentral provide access to expertise, via its leading-edge technologies and facilities within its extensive alliance of Providers, it can enable companies to demonstrate solutions at semi-technical scale.

NanoCentral continually captures emerging technologies from a wide range of industry sectors and academia and makes these available to all the emerging market sectors. The key advantage NanoCentral offers is access to facilities to create and test these nanomaterial solutions in a cost-effective way. Over the succeeding years, the NanoCentral industrial alliance has greatly expanded its range of technologies and equipment in line with customer demand.

NanoCentral uniquely provides existing and potential manufacturers and users of nanomaterials single-point access to an integrated and comprehensive set of nano-related capabilities that encompass:

  • Development of underpinning science
  • Synthesis
  • Dispersion, functionalisation & formulation
  • Application development
  • Characterisation & measurement
  • Safety, health and environment.

NanoCentral benefits society

NanoCentral recognises that there are real societal benefits to be gained by the safe development of nanomaterials ranging from improved drug delivery, water and land clean up to lighter and stronger composites and lower carbon transport. In the last couple of years the number of commercially available nano-enabled products has grown from a handful to multi thousands of products in the consumer market. However, this is only the beginning for NanoCentral: Lux research forecast that by 2015 the market for nano-enabled products will be $3.1tn.

Tel: 01642 442 464

Added the 26 April 2010 in category Innovation UK Vol6-1

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