The Role of NanoMetals and their Future in Electronics and Energy
Published: December 14, 2011 Category: Advanced Materials Emerging Electronics

Supporting the case for a future in which nanometals generate new business opportunities is the fact that they have—under other names—been around for some time already.  This means that there are established technical skillsets, supply chains, etc., that can be brought to bear on the current nanometal opportunities.  What one must take into consideration in assessing the market potential for nanometals are:

• Very thin layers of metals are routinely deposited using vacuum evaporation, sputtering, etc. in the semiconductor industry.  Although this industry regularly operates at dimensions under 100 nm, it is not usually considered to be “nanotechnology,” presumably on the grounds that sub-100-nm microelectronics is part of a mature pattern that follows Moore’s Law, while nanotechnology is supposedly something leading edge.  Nonetheless, the above indicates that the fabrication machinery exists to set down metals that are nanometals in at least one dimension.

• Some nanometals are now used routinely in medical and healthcare applications.  Nanosilver powders are a powerful antibacterial and antifungal agent and colloidal nanosilver has been used in a variety of treatments for decades.  Nanogold has some interesting applications (at least potentially) in the treatment of cancer and other diseases.

These established uses for nanometals again suggest established skillsets that can be leveraged into other applications spaces; electronics and energy applications. But there are also other ways in which the use of nanometals in medicine has implications for the energy and electronics space.  One of these is the fact that developments of new materials for medicine have implications for medical electronics.  Another is the fact that history here has implications for how much it may be possible to regulate nanosilver and therefore restrict its use/sale in electronics and energy applications.  The regulatory powers of government agencies are often defined in terms of their power over “new” materials and it has been argued that—because of the longstanding use of colloidal silver—nanosilver is not new.

• There is also already a supply chain of sorts for nanometals for energy and electronics applications. However, these applications are today found mostly in the R&D/university research community.  This is a start, but it is important to remember that this community has entirely different needs than the commercial electronics and energy industries.  Most obviously we are talking about much smaller volumes in the research community and higher prices than the commercial electronics and energy industries could support.

Less obviously, the research community is anxious to have available as many nanomaterials as possible so that they can explore as many different directions as possible.  By contrast, mainstream industries want to standardize on as few materials as possible, so that experience curves can be climbed and economies of scale achieved.  One implication of this situation is that there are opportunities for firms to develop reformed supply chains for nanometals that are more appropriate to the higher volume markets that NanoMarkets sees appearing in the near future.

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