INSIGHT: US chemical firms to lead R&D spending on nanotech

30 December 2010 15:46  [Source: ICIS news]

By Joe Kamalick

DowWASHINGTON (ICIS)--US chemical companies are expected to increase their research and development (R&D) spending in 2011 on advanced materials and nanotechnology as the global economy continues to pull out of the recession, according to forecasts by a leading R&D institute.

The Batelle Memorial Institute (BMI) said that chemical companies again will dominate R&D spending on advanced materials in the new year, just as they have in the last three years.

In its annual analysis of global research and development funding, BMI said that an increasing need for lighter, low-energy materials and components across the full spectrum of industrial and product applications was driving chemical companies’ R&D spending.

“Industrial materials and chemical companies are involved in a broad range of R&D activities where users must rely on a mix of proven technologies and materials applied in new and/or unique ways,” BMI said.

“New materials must meet continuing performance improvements in terms of strength-to-weight ratios, cost-effectiveness, sustainable manufacturing, low or zero greenhouse gas (GHG) processing emissions and availability in critical applications.

“Across all industries, including automotive, aerospace, oil and gas exploration and consumer packaging, there is a common need for lighter, more efficient systems that reduce energy consumption while delivering on the intended mission,” the report said.

With growing demand for specialty materials and engineering resins, the top ten US spenders in advanced materials R&D are almost all chemical companies, BMI noted.

Leading the pack is Dow Chemical, followed by DuPont, 3M Company, PPG Industries, Lubrizol, ALCOA, Huntsman, Eastman Chemical, Air Products & Chemicals and Praxair.

Those firms are expected to account for as much as 80% of all US private sector spending on advanced materials R&D spending next year, which BMI says likely will reach $6.8bn (€5.16bn).

US research spending on advanced materials will in turn account for more than 20% of the world’s total of about $31.4bn next year, the study said.

As an example of the broadening reach of advanced materials applications, BMI cited Dow’s development of its solar shingle.

“With R&D supporting its corporate and M&A strategies to move up the specialty value chain, Dow Chemical has developed a solar shingle that would bring the largest US chemical manufacturer into an entirely new and lucrative market,” the report noted.

“These shingles use copper indium gallium diselenide solar modules - made by Global Solar Energy, Inc - that are wrapped in a proprietary Dow plastic. The resulting product has the potential to be installed on an average home for about $6,000 and could supply about half of the homeowner’s electrical power,” BMI said.

“Dow estimates it could earn about $1bn in revenue from this product by 2015.”

Within overall R&D spending on advanced materials, said BMI, the focus on nanotechnology materials, manufacturing techniques and applications is emerging as the front-runner.

“Nowhere else is materials research so strong in 2010 and 2011 as nanotechnology,” the report said.

BMI quoted Ray Johnson, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Lockheed Martin, as saying: “With nanotechnology, almost every material property can be changed and tailored - electrical, mechanical magnetic, or optical.”

Lockheed Martin began with a three-year pilot investment programme for nanotech materials and applications, BMI noted, “an operation that is now entering its fifth year because of its high payoff potential”.

 Nanotech research and development also has strong US government support, chiefly through the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI).

“NNI continues to get bipartisan support in Congress and the administration, with more than $1.7bn in annual government funding across 15 government agencies, including the Department of Energy [DOE] and NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration],”

“Research on fundamental nanoscale phenomena and processes is the largest programme area of the NNI, with $484m proposed for 2011,” BMI said

“Combined with $342m for nanomaterials research, this basic research component of the NNI portfolio represents just under half of the total NNI funding request.”

“Other areas of R&D that are supported by the NNI include nanoscale devices and systems ($435m); instrument research, metrology and standards ($91m); nonmanufacturing ($76m); major research facilities and instrumentation acquisition ($178m); environment, health and safety ($74m); and education and societal dimensions ($37m).”

BMI noted too that product development opportunities exist for US chemical makers within NNI’s game plan.

“One of the main goals of the NNI is that government multidisciplinary research centers partner with industry and economic development organizations,” the study said.

Citing Dow’s development of its solar shingles, which are forecast to generate $1bn in revenue for the company by 2015, BMI noted that Dow received a $20m grant from the Energy Department as part of the firm’s R&D budget for that product.

($1 = €0.76)

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By: Joe Kamalick
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