Given the promises of nano technology, the race is on to harness its potential - and profit from it. Many governments believe nanotechnology will bring about a new era of productivity and wealth, and this is reflected by the way public investment in nanotechnology research and development has risen during the past decade. In 2002, Japan was dedicating US$750 million a year to the field, a six-fold increase on the 1997 figure.
The US National Science Foundation predicts the global market for nanotech products will exceed US$1 trillion within 15 years. Paul Miller, senior researcher at the UK policy research organisation Demos, said in 2002:
“...roughly one-third of the research budgets of the biggest science-based firms in the US is going into nanotech” Whilst the US National Nanotechnology Initiative’s budget rose from US$116 million in 1997 to a requested US$849 million in 2004.
Graphite, the composite element of Graphene, has seen its value soar from levels of $1000 per tonne at the close of 2009 to peaks of $3000 at the start of 2012. This pure commodity is finite in supply and demand for nanotechnology can put a strain on this resource, creating potential for an elevation in the cost for manufacture and advancing the prospect of speculation.
Government Investment in Graphene
The discovery of Graphene was credited to a UK publicly funded research body at the University of Manchester. Now known as 'NowNano', the university's postgraduate doctoral research team are exploring new nano materials and uncovering new commercial applications for those materials already under the nano umbrella.
The UK Government at the start of 2013, announced an additional £50 million investment into Graphene patent research, this alongside it's recent involvement with private parties to develop and build the National Graphene Institute in Manchester. The centre managed by NowNano, the joint University of Manchester and Lancaster University nano explorers; is set to be at the forefront of the UK's catch-up with it's world trade rivals. The UK despite being a hotbed of interest in nano materials, lags behind in 4th position for nations holding commercial patents. China leads the way with north of 2000, with both the USA and South Korea also ahead of the British.
The UK currently has patent rights on 54 Graphene applications and with recent noises by private enterprise such as Nokia announcing £1 Billion investment in research; the UK is under no illusion that the race seems to be on to advance upstream commercialisation of the wonder material.
Graphene is formed from a single layer of carbon atoms, sourced from raw Graphite. Graphene as a nano material can be delivered in a range of properties, from flake, platelets and to suspension in solution.
With this material being created from a raw commodity, the ultimate production costs of Graphene will fluctuate dependent on the price of Graphite. 'Graphene Trade' opens the door to speculation in graphite and graphene products. The chart adjacent shows the growth in Graphite prices since the start of the 21st Century.
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"Roughly one-third of the research budgets of the biggest science-based firms in the US is going into nanotech”