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Sustainable and Scalable Nanomanufacturing a Key Focus of 2012 Summit in Boston

Written by: 
Jeff Morse, PhD

On the eve of next week’s Nanomanufacturing Summit and 11th Annual NanoBusiness Conference in Boston, I’d like to take pause and reflect upon the synergistic events and interactions that have been taking place over the past several years positioning us for the nanomanufacturing revolution. While nanomanufacturing has often been a misunderstood topic or discipline within the broader topic of nanotechnology, it has gained substantial attention in recent years. Most notable has been the PCAST report on the assessment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) in 2010, providing key recommendations for future directions in which it cited the need for increased funding and emphasis on nanomanufacturing, commercialization, and effective technology transfer. Soon thereafter, the NNI Signature Initiative on Sustainable Nanomanufacturing was announced. The goal of this interagency initiative is to establish manufacturing technologies for economical and sustainable integration of nanoscale building blocks into complex, large-scale systems.

The signature initiative included two main thrusts. Thrust 1: Design of scalable and sustainable nanomaterials, components, devices, and processes will focus on research and development for overcoming the major technical barriers leading from the laboratory to the production line, including the following:

  • Novel processes and techniques for scalable and sustainable manufacturing of known beneficial nanoscale materials, components, or devices, with preference given to energy- and material-efficient processes applicable to broad classes of nanomaterials, components, and devices;
  • Novel beneficial nanomaterial components and devices produced by known scalable and sustainable manufacturing processes and techniques, such as cellulosic nanomaterials;
  • Fundamentals of nanomaterial, component, device, and/or nanomanufacturing process design specifically focused on scalability and efficient use of materials and energy for sustainability; and
  • Interactions of nanomaterials, components and devices with nanomanufacturing processes and of finished products with the environment focused on EH&S.

Thrust 2: Nanomanufacturing measurement technologies, will focus on:

  • Novel measurement techniques that enable information about nanoscale material composition and behavior to be obtained at high speed;
  • Process control methods that can utilize the information provided by high-speed measurement techniques to maintain process stability and guarantee product composition/consistency; and
  • Development of methodologies that enable accurate measurement of nanomaterial evolution and transport during product manufacturing and use, and across the material lifecycle.

Each thrust has identified goals for successful outcomes.

As part of this initiative, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced a program in the area of Scalable Nanomanufacturing. The emphasis of this program is on research that supports the identification and demonstration of nanomanufacturing processes with high potential to scale to economically and industrially relevant production levels.  Supporting projects through Nanoscale Interdisciplinary Research Teams (NIRT), two rounds of proposal requests have already been enacted addressing at least one of the following interconnected themes:

  • Novel processes and techniques for continuous and scalable nanomanufacturing;
  • Directed (e.g. physical/chemical/biological) self-assembly processes leading to heterogeneous nanostructures with the potential for high-rate production;
  • Fundamental scientific research in well-defined areas that are compellingly justified as critical roadblocks to scale-up;
  • Principles and design methods to produce machines and processes to manufacture nanoscale structures, devices and systems; and/or
  • Long-term societal and educational implications of the large-scale production and use of nanomaterials, devices and systems, including the life-cycle analysis of such nanomaterials, devices and systems.

Furthering the cause of nanomanufacturing, commercialization, and effective technology transfer has been the launch of the National Nanomanufacturing Network (NNN) in 2007, and the relaunch of the NanoBusiness Commercialization Association (NanoBCA), formerly the NanoBusiness Alliance, in 2011. The Nanomanufacturing Summit 2012 next week in Boston will provide an excellent opportunity to hear the latest on sustainable and scalable nanomanufacturing, effective commercialization and technology transfer approaches, the latest nanoEHS, and regional initiatives successfully fostering the innovation cycle and incubation of nanotechnology startup companies. For further details on this opportunity I encourage you to visit, and I look forward to seeing you in Boston!