THE EU must increase funding into nanotechnology research so that Europe can regain its former leading position in the growing and increasingly lucrative sector, says the European Commission.
A Commission policy paper, ‘Towards a European Strategy for Nanotechnology’, says the EU should use its cross-border co-ordinating role to create ‘poles of excellence’ in the sector, combining researchers with industry.
This, the report claims, would increase investment and co-ordination of R&D, and reinforce European industry’s exploitation of nanotechnologies.
The key is to encourage research training in nanotechnology that focuses minds on the commercial exploitation of cutting edgeinventions, ‘ensuring favourable conditions for technology transfer and innovation for European R&D excellence to be translated into wealth-generating products and processes’.
Nanotechnology is seen by the Commission as an example of the need to unite EU expertise under its European Research Areaprogramme, overcoming Europe’s perennial problem of atomising development among 25 sometimes-competing member countries.
The report highlights that Europe started early with nanotechnology investment, but has failed to maintain its advantage because of restrictions on risk capital, patenting problems, and a general weakness of entrepreneurial culture.
The paper highlights the earmarking of e1.3bn on nanotechnology in the EU’s ongoing Sixth Research Framework Programme (2002-2006), a sum that the Commission wants to increase in the seventh programme from 2007-2013, where it will be pushing ministers for sharply increased spending.
Europe is investing less on nanotechnology than the US and Japan, who have centralised nanotechnology R&D programmes that the EU currently lacks.
These are developing innovations in manufacturing, energy storage, medical, security, instrumentation and other areas. ‘To achieve the necessary critical mass, we need to concentrate our resources on a limited number of infrastructures,’ says the report.