Nanotechnology is a key technology for the 21st century. New material properties can be created with the help of nanotechnology through an exact mastering of the structure sizes between 1 and 100 nanometres, and properties, such as the mechanical stability for the respective application, can be tailored.
Nanotechnology, as a cross-sectional technology, influences many important industry sectors such as the semiconductor industry, automobile industry, biotechnology, chemical industry, medical technology, sensor technology, environmental technology, aerospace, mechanical engineering and the textile industry. In addition, nanotechnology provides a wide range of application options for completely new products or product characteristics such as conductive plastics, ultralight building materials or coatings with a high thermoconductivity.
Germany, along with the USA and Japan, is a world leader in nanotechnology in terms of technological leadership and innovative strength. Bavaria is among the leading nanotechnology locations in Germany. Particularly small and medium-sized enterprises in Bavaria can draw on the enormous potential offered by nanotechnology. Cooperation with national and international institutions, networks and companies outside Bavaria’s borders is of tremendous importance in securing and expanding this leading position over the long term.
Running parallel to the manufacturing processes for nanomaterials are process technologies, such as dispersion, which are developing into key technologies on the way to increased quantities. Here, an optimisation of the even distribution of a specific nanomaterial, for example in a plastics matrix, takes place, which allows a targeted functionalisation of this synthetic material, hence providing it with tailored characteristics it otherwise would not have. Integrating, for example, nanosilver makes plastics conductive, thereby making completely new product characteristics possible.
This technological development also affects the strategy within the Cluster Nanotechnology. Exploiting synergies within and even between different industries is extremely important for the innovative process. Project enquiries show that linking different areas can provide decisive impetus for a competitive advantage. Networks play an extremely important role in this, in order, for example, to illustrate the entire value-added chain, starting from the production of the raw material combined with the worldwide availability all the way to disposal. One company is generally not able to provide the required development work and bear the economic risks on its own. For this reason, the Cluster Nanotechnology has established corresponding networks (for example NanoCarbon, NanoSilber, NanoBRIDGE etc.), which are especially active at the interfaces between research, application-oriented development and production. And this is exactly where the work of the Cluster Nanotechnology begins, whose primary task is the technology transfer between the stakeholders from science and business.
Cluster Nanotechnology – Using networks for success – The Nanoinitiative Bayern GmbH manages the Cluster Nanotechnology in Bavaria, which in turn is sponsored by the Free State of Bavaria through its cluster initiative. The efficient support of technology transfer between the stakeholders from science and business delivers new impetus to the areas of research, development and production. Innovations in this high-tech sector are primarily driven by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), because the implementation often requires a considerable willingness to take risks and requires a high degree of flexibility. The cluster’s focus is on supporting the SMEs in the implementation within specific R&D projects.
In addition, the Förderverein Nanonetz Bayern e.V. network association acts as an open platform for cluster activities. Bundling and coordinating the core competencies from research, industry, academics and services creates synergies which contribute significantly to introducing nanotechnology approaches to society and business.
A wide range of events, for example cluster meetings, trade congresses or participation in trade fairs in form of joint cluster exhibition stands, were coordinated to suit the core activities in order to provide interested companies and players from the cluster with a significant added value. Project work represents one of the cluster’s most important core activities. Depending on customer requirements, it ranges from initiating a project to support, consulting and execution all the way to complete project management. In addition, R&D projects or working groups can also create the nucleus for establishing further-reaching networks. One of the primary objectives is bringing innovative small and medium-sized enterprises, large companies and application-oriented research institutions and universities together, with the goal of transferring nanomaterials into specific, close-to-market applications and products.
The production capacity of MWCNT (Multi-Wall Carbon Nanotubes), for example, continues to increase and reached, according to the American Ceramic Society, a worldwide total of more than 4,500 tonnes/year (2011). This means that nanomaterials are increasingly available in larger quantities. Cluster activities in this sector have been expanded considerably and the NanoCarbon cooperation network was founded primarily as a result of the increased interest, the enormous technical options for carbon nanotubes and the discovery of graphenes.
The Network NanoCarbon– The Network NanoCarbon in particular targets supporting SMEs in turning research results regarding nanocarbon material into innovative applications and marketable products. NanoCarbon serves as a contact point for partners from industry and research and focuses on the manufacturing, processing, application, production and disposal of nanocarbon materials. Fa-cilitation by the network management provides comprehensive support for the partners in the cooperation, while close technological cooperation enables them to establish new applications and products for nanocarbons on the market. Numerous targeted R&D projects are planned as part of the Network NanoCarbon and designed to utilise the potential offered by nanocarbon materials between institutions and companies, several of which have their home in Bavaria (FutureCarbon, Eckart and HPS). The competitiveness of SMEs in Bavaria is to be sustainably increased through the participation of the companies in network projects.
NanoSilver network project – The NanoSilber network has taken on the task of promoting and supporting small and medium-sized enterprises in the responsible use of nanosilver through innovative developments. Nanosilver is a material featuring considerable technical and economic potential. Silver nanoparticles and wires display unique characteristics, which are superior to those found in macroscopic silver. Market surveys forecast that, due to these characteristics, the nanosilver market will grow from 290 million USD in 2011 to two billion USD in 2018.
The network management supports the partners by facilitating cooperation, and in applying for funding and finding new cooperation partners.
European Centre for Dispersion Technologies (EZD) – Processing and process technology are becoming increasingly valuable along with nanomaterials (e.g. nanosilver and nanocarbon). Automation technology and process technology often play a decisive role in introducing nanotechnology into the respective production environments or making them more efficient. In order to clearly focus on process technology, the Cluster Nanotechnology initiated and carried out the founding activities for the European Centre for Dispersion Technologies (EZD) in Selb together with the Süddeutsches Kunststoffzentrum (SKZ), the German plastics center. In 2012, in a focused action, by dedicated companies from the region, the SKZ and the cluster managed to secure funding in the amount of five million euros for the establishment and initial operation of the EZD.
The key focus of the newly founded research and technology transfer centre is on the manufacturing and characterisation of micro and nanoscale dispersions. In order to offer these relevant services to industry, a competent team as well as diverse equipment in the three areas formulation, dispersion processes and analysis are available in Selb. Close cooperation with industry plays a considerable role for the EZD. Particularly small and medium-sized companies often do not have sufficient capacities to conduct research and development. “These companies can immediately take advantage of the support offered for dispersion technologies by the EZD,” says Dr. Wolff-Fabris, head of the EZD. An additional focus of the EZD is on further training and knowledge transfer.
From laboratory to series production – Numerous developments based on nanotechnology have resulted in a number of unique products over the past years. Currently, work on the further development and commercial optimisation of manufacturing and processing technologies is underway.
Two examples of this: nanoplus Nanosystems and Technologies GmbH was established as a spin-off from the laboratories of the University of Würzburg in 1998. nanoplus has experienced continuous growth since its founding. Headquarters and main plant of nanoplus are in Gerbrunn near Würzburg. A second plant was opened in Meiningen/Thuringia in 2009. The company specialises in laser diodes for gas sensors and is currently the worldwide market leader. The wavelengths for single-mode semiconductor lasers range from 760 to 3,500 nm.
A founding member of the Nanonetz Bayern e.V. network association is Schaeffler Technologies GmbH & Co. KG. One of the main topics for Schaeffler, an automotive supplier, is reducing friction in conventional combustion engines. In the coating centre, which was founded especially for the development of innovative coating systems, work over the past years has focussed on designing sophisticated coating systems that reduce friction considerably. A reduction in friction results in reducing CO2 emissions; in a specific case up to two per cent per vehicle, so that a considerable contribution to saving resources through the direct influence of nanotechnology can be registered here. Furthermore, components and systems, for example for the automotive sector, have been developed and transferred to high-volume production.
The author studied Electrical Engineering in Darmstadt and then, as a research fellow, assisted in the planning and establishment of the microstructure laboratory at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart. After obtaining a doctorate, he held various positions in industry. Dr. Grambow has been responsible for managing the Cluster Nanotechnology since 2010.