Simply smart solutions to a complex world of challenges
Each New Year is the start of another journey, isn’t it? As 2013 begins, I’m seeing a converging path, one where innovation meets advanced manufacturing meets environmentalism. Best of all, it’s leading across a wide open landscape of a growing economy. Let’s take the indicators one by one.
Green keeps growing.
Beltway insiders say the 2012 election reaffirms that there will be a “greening of the economy” in the next four years. That’s good news. Experience shows that nanotechnology is key to any green revolution. From hybrid cars to pollution remediation, it unlocks promise that’s simply not available otherwise.
Innovation and advanced manufacturing are the future.
Many of those same Washington sources agree on the importance of – and support for – advanced manufacturing to fuel the U.S. economy’s rebound. Add to that an interview with Harvard Economist Ricardo Hausmann I saw in a recent Technology Review magazine that suggests America’s competitive advantage is “deep knowledge, high R&D intensity, and the best science and technology base in the world.”
It’s nanotechnology’s kind of innovative thinking – and the advanced manufacturing capability to transform it into products – that unites those powerful ideas. A look at statistics suggests we’re already well on the way. A BCC Research report set nanotechnology’s 2012 market value at $20.7 billion globally, moving toward $48.9 billion by 2017 at a double-digit annual growth rate.
“Bad news” that isn’t.
Some in industry are concerned about the EPA Inspector General Office’s dispatch that suggests a better EPA effort is needed in understanding and monitoring nanotechnology. Add to that a common belief that a divided and distracted Congress will likely hamper funding for the task. The result is a creeping paralysis in the marketplace that comes with uncertainty.
Keep calm and carry on, as the Brits say. The track record in nanotechnology demonstrates that we’re achieving progress in a responsible, sensible manner. I’ve worked in the field since my university days and know literally thousands of scientists, academics and business leaders who have adopted our own version of the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.
The environmental commitment isn’t just lip service for me. In addition to taking personal leadership for my own company’s EHS policies, I’m working with organizations doing research for the EPA. Many others are doing the same.
One area of particular focus for me right now is maximizing benefits while minimizing waste streams in nanotechnology. A recent article in the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science & Technology begins to explore how nanomaterials are transformed as they pass through chemical, physical and biological processes in the environment. Just as environmental processes turn metal to rust, stone to sand, and apple cores to compost, they affect nanomaterials over time. While further work is being done in the area, perhaps the green mantra of “Reduce, reuse, recyle” has particular value for us all.
Where do we go from here?
In truth, I doubt there’s an industry that couldn’t be made stronger by exploiting the potential of nanotechnology. Here are several I think show particular promise, given the greening of the economy and the opportunities in advanced manufacturing.
- Water. Growing world population, climate change and expanding agriculture are all driving the need for increased access to clean water. New filtering options are a much sought goal.
- Energy independence. Look at all the fronts, from solar power and batteries for hybrid cars to biofuel additives and enhancements for the safe oil and gas extraction of hydraulic fracturing.
- Food quality and security. The desire for more nutrition and concerns about safety open opportunity in fields from nutriceuticals to contamination detection to packaging that preserves longer.
- Smart displays. The world now runs on display screens – and the U.S. can take a leadership role in innovations that open up advanced manufacturing options. From waterproof coatings to nano-inks, anything that adds usability or enforces Moore’s Law is worthy of pursuit.
Manufacturing solutions, for our economy, our environment, our world. Doing more, responsibly. That’s my prediction, that’s my direction. I invite you to come along.
Scott E. Rickert is chief executive of Nanofilm, Ltd.