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Breakthrough Analysis


by William E. Halal
Monday, October 15, 2007


Event | Data Points | Forecast Data Analysis | Trend Analysis | Articles  

The “nanosphere” consists of objects measured in one billionth of a meter, and is now undergoing a revolution as research increasingly yields control over this tiny world. Beyond simply being smaller, objects behave differently at the nano level, introducing bold new possibilities. Electricity flows more easily. Materials change properties. A few simple products are out now, but the imminent possibility of creating more powerful computers, medical treatments, and virtually any type of extraordinary item from scratch now has the entire world excited, with billions being devoted to research that produces breakthroughs daily. The technology is so powerful scientists envision storage densities that allow cell phones to download movies. The President of NanoBusiness Alliance claims “Nanotech research is breaking out all over the planet.” ( 4/4/04) TechCast thinks nanotechnology is likely to reach mainstream use about 2015, but there is a wide variation in this forecast, ranging from 2010 to 2020. We could be disappointed, but the potential market seems to be vast, in the $ trillion range.

Event Being Forecast

Nanotechnology is used in 30% of commercial products


Selected Data Points to Consider

• Nanotech was a $385 million/year industry in the U.S. in ‘03 and the National Science Foundation expects a $ 1 trillion market worldwide by ‘15. (BusinessWeek 3/25/02) The field is expected to produce 40% of all data storage devices by '11, alone amounting to $170 billion. ( 8/18/04)

• Fujitsu Siemens Corporation estimates that nanotubes may be used to form more powerful chips at about '15. ( 3/14/05)

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Forecast Data Analysis

    Mean Std Dev N (# Experts)
Most Likely Year 2019 5 50
Market Size ($B) 520 276
Confidence (%) 65 12

In addition, 1 expert predicted that this event would never occur; confidence: 50%.

Note: "Most Likely Year" is the year when this technology is expected to reach the adoption level stated under "Event Being Forecast" in industrial nations like the US, EU, and Japan. "Confidence" is the confidence our experts place in this forecst. "Market Size" estimates the potential market demand when this rechnology matures; global figures are not available, so this estimate is for the U.S. economy.

Forecast Chart

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Trend Analysis

PROS: Trends Driving this Event

    •The U.S. National Research Council recently supported Drexler's original concept of nano manufacturing. ( 12/5/06)
    • Harvard Researchers have used nanotubes to carry electricity 100 times faster than silicon. (Eureka Alert 11/6/03).
    • A NASA study demonstrated the feasibility of self-replication with nanotubes, leading to mass produced nanorobots. ( 6/2/04)
    • Individual nanotubes have been picked up and manipulated for the first time with laser beams. (NewScientist 6/4/04)
    • The U.S. Gov’t. funded a nanotech program at $ 3.7 billion and the E.U. has a program of 1.3 billion Euros. Business is investing about $1 billion/year. Total investment in '04 was $8.6 billion. ( 8/16/04)
    • 1,200 nanotech ventures have been started around the globe. (BusinessWeek 2/14/05) 3000 nanotech patents have been filed since 1996 (Nanotech Report 03).

  2. ELECTRONICS • Samsung and Motorola are developing supersharp flat screen displays using nanotech to project high-fidelity images at a fraction the power of LCD screens. Samsung shiped its first nano TVs in '06 and Motorola in '07.(BusinessWeek 2/14/05)
    • Rice University was awarded a $1 million grant by NASA to grow nanotubes into electrical wires that will carry power 10 x better than copper at 1/6th the weight. Nanotube power lines could be available in about 5 years to radically transform energy transmission.(Wired 4/27/05)
    • Nanoparticle layers of gold and cadmium sulphide produce tiny local currents and light when sqeezed together, making a material that is as sensitive to touch as human fingertips. The material could be used to allow surgeons to sense textures remotely and robots to sense details. (NewScientist 6/8/06)
    • Capacitors made with nanotechnology outperform batteries. Rather than store energy chemically, capacitors store energy as a charge between plates, and carbon nanotubes can increase the area of the plates enormously. Nanotech capacitors can hold more energy than batteries, they recharge in seconds, and they last indefinitely. (Discover 6/06)
    • The electrodes of lithium-ion batteries have far greater surface area using nanotubes, increasing energy storage several-fold. (TechnologyReview, 6/22/06)

  3. NANOCHIPS • Magnetic nanoparticles have been used to form a logic gate that performs computer calculations. This could form the basis of instant-on computers that retain data without power. (TechnologyReview 1/19/06)
    • Computer switches have been constructed out of "Y" shaped nanotubes. Like a transistor, power to one leg of the Y turns current through the other two legs fully on or off. ( 8/14/05)
    • Nantero and ASM Lithography are producing nanotube memory chips that will be on the market in ’05. They will store terabits of data/square centimeter, about a million times the current data densities (BusinessWeek 10/27/03; EETimes 5/8/03).
    • Israeli scientists have developed programmable arrays using self-assembling nanotubes and DNA to store 1 billion switches/square centimeter. It has been called "the biggest breakthrough since CMOS was developed in 1960.” A researcher explained: “The tubes form spontaneously in a self-correcting process that is predictable and error-free.”
    • IBM has used carbon nanotubes to form transistors 100 times smaller than those on silicon chips (TechnologyReview 3/02).
    • Researchers in Korea used nanotubes to build nonvolatile memory devices storing 200 gigabits/square inch, 200 times today’s capacity (TechnologyReview 6/13/03).

  4. MEDICINE • The U.S. National Cancer Institute has launched a $144 million nanotech program to ”radically change we way we diagnose, treat, and prevent cancer.” (USA Today 9/12/04).
    • The U.S. National Science Foundation estimates that half of all medical treatments and drugs could be affected by nanotech.
    • Nobel Prize Laureate Richard Smalley, who discovered nanotubes, thinks, “the ability to detect cancer earlier will almost certainly be due to nanotech.”
    • Ablynx Co. has developed “nanobodies,” cheap and extremely small proteins with the ability to fight foreign bodies but small enough to penetrate tumors and other dangerous cells. ( 5/12/04)
    • Molecules have been organized into a small computer able to seek out and destroy cancer cells. (Nature 4/29/04)

  5. SPACE ELEVATOR The unusual strength of carbon nanotubes (100 X steel at 1/6th the weight) has made the old vision of a “space elevator” feasible. The space elevator will orbit 62,000 miles above a fixed spot on the equator, connected to Earth with a thin film of nanotubes 1 meter wide. NASA has set up 2 competitions with prizes to spur private development. The LiftPort Group plans to have a space elevator completed in 2018, and is experimenting with a one-mile high cable tethered from balloons. "It was rock solid," said the President of the Company.(NewScientist 2/15/06)

CONS: Obstacles Opposing this Event

  1. DOUBTS ON ASSEMBLER Eric Drexler's original plan to build "assemblers" able to create any physical object has been challenged by scientists. “It’s not something I can foresee any time soon,” said one nanoentrepreneur (The Scientist 8/14/03).

  2. DOUBTS ON NANOCHIPS A researcher at IBM thinks “Computing with molecular electronics is a dream of the future. It’s not imminent by any means.” (, 5/1/03)

  3. ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE Research shows that carbon nantubes dissolve in water and can damage organisms, such as bacteria. (American Chemical Society 5/9/05)

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