What Is a Nanotechnology Company Anyway?

Here is the latest nanotech investment urging I have bothered to look at that explains that despite the economic crisis there are still opportunities for nanotechnology companies and that means opportunities for investors, I suppose.

I stopped for a moment after reading this term “nanotechnology company” to consider what might actually constitute such a thing. Is Toyota a nanotechnology company as some nanotechnology stock indices have claimed? Is IBM a nanotechnology company because they are doing research into using graphene and carbon nanotubes in electronics? How about all the instrumentation and microscopy companies that give us the tools to see and to work on the nanometer and angstrom scale, are they nanotechnology companies? What about the flood of nanomaterials companies that started making carbon nanotubes in their basements that were going to revolutionize industry?

Well before you get that sorted, you need to understand that nanotechnology is a big opportunity because it’s being used to solve global warming.

"The threat of global warming is forcing industry to change more quickly than ever before," David Hwang, an emerging technology analyst with Lux Research is quoted as saying in the article linked to at the top of this blog, adding that [it (global warming)] presents opportunities for nanotechnology companies that can make products more efficient.

There’s that “nanotechnology companies” again. Since Hwang references lighter vehicles and more fuel-efficient ones, I suppose we will need to guess where along the lighter-and-more-fuel-efficient-vehicle value chain we should look for the opportunities.

Should we consider a company that has created a fuel additive from nanomaterials that makes diesel engines run more efficiently a nanotechnology company, and, if so, which one should we invest in? Or do we just go straight to the downstream product, the vehicles themselves, in which case we face the prospect of investing in automotive companies, not the most attractive notion based on the recent past.

While this information was apparently delivered at a nanotechnology symposium at Lehigh University, it would seem that the real target for this kind of insight is for businesses, investors and government funding agencies.

Despite figures ranging from one to three trillion dollars being dangled in front of people’s faces for the last 10 years, it doesn’t seem to have attracted the level of investment that would really make a difference in advancing the commercial aspirations of nanotechnologies if the recent PCAST meeting is any indication.

Perhaps the problem is the consistent use of vague market trends to highlight the need for an ill-defined set of technologies that merely enable other products and doesn’t constitute an industry itself.

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Nanoclast

IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

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Dexter Johnson
Madrid, Spain
 
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