Nanotech is a €30-billion opportunity for Irish economy

12 Nov 2009

Nanotechnology, the science of ultra micro electronics and pharmaceuticals, has the potential to be a major engine of growth in the Irish economy and exports could be doubled from €15 billion today to €30 billion by 2015, Tanaiste Mary Coughlan TD has said.

In launching Nanoweek, which ran from 30 November to 4 December, the Tanaiste said Ireland has more than 500 companies, both multinational and indigenous, employing about 130,000 people in the ICT, medical devices and biopharmaceutical sectors.

These companies utilise nanotechnology for continued product innovation and competitiveness. Of €150 billion in goods and services exported by Ireland in 2008, it is estimated 10pc were enabled by nanoscience and related nanotechnologies.  

Focus may mean growth

By focusing on the area of nanotechnology there is the potential to grow this figure to 20pc by 2015. “Nanotechnology is contributing to product innovation in virtually every field of manufactured goods, enabling nearly $250 billion in products in 2008, on track to exceed $3 trillion in 2015,” said Dr Diarmuid O’Brien, executive director of CRANN, the Science Foundation Ireland-funded Centre for Science and Engineering Technology.

The area of nanoscience has grown consistently in Ireland over the past number of years and the country has developed a global reputation for leadership in nanoscience, with its researchers ranked sixth globally for the quality of their research output.

There is a potential to make nanoscience a key pillar of the Smart Economy strategy, using it as a magnet both to attract FDI as well as supporting indigenous companies who are developing IP in the area for global export.

“Nanoscience has the ability to be a significant contributor to Ireland’s efforts to return to global competitiveness in industries such as ICT, biomedical and pharmaceutical,” said Jim O’Hara, general manager of Intel Ireland.

“There is an opportunity for us to underpin our work in these areas internationally by nurturing and exploiting our expertise in nanoscience. The future of many of our largest industries depends on innovations and developments in the area of nanotechnology. Ireland has the opportunity now, by investing wisely in these areas, to dramatically increase the economic impact of nanoscience.

“There are a number of Intel researchers in residence at CRANN and at the Tyndall National Institute. The reason we are doing this is because the products Intel Ireland will manufacture in 10 years’ time will be based on fundamental research carried out today. 

“Intel is only one company of many engaged in this kind of work and Ireland must build on its leadership in nanoscience if it is going to continue to attract, retain and grow these kinds of industries in Ireland.”

About Nanoweek

Nanoweek included a range of events to highlight how critical nanoscience is and will be for the future success of the Irish economy.

Nanoweek was an initiative of The Nanoscience Network, which combined two major consortiums: INSPIRE, funded by the HEA, is comprised of internationally leading researchers across 10 third-level institutions and co-ordinated by CRANN (TCD).

The recently announced Competence Centre for Applied Nanotechnology (CCAN), funded by Enterprise Ireland and the Industrial Development Agency, includes both leading multi-national companies such as Intel, Analog Devices and Seagate, and indigenous Irish companies such as Creganna, Aerogen, Audit Diagnostics and Proxybiomedical.

The CCAN, hosted by the Tyndall National Institute at UCC and CRANN, together with INSPIRE, represents an impressive nano-ecosystem for Ireland.

Off to schools

In addition, a schools programme took place with members of the Nanoscience Network visiting schools in Cork, Limerick, Dublin and Galway to introduce secondary-school students to nanotechnology. 

“Ireland is well on track to establish itself as a global centre of excellence for nano research and to take a significant slice of that global business,” explained O’Brien.

“To achieve this, we must continue to invest in research so that we can further develop valuable synergies between universities and industry to ensure that we commercialise the ground-breaking research being undertaken at the moment.

“There are already many great examples of partnerships between academia and multinational and indigenous companies to create viable commercial enterprises in nanotechnology. The challenge is to ensure that we maintain the momentum already created through Government and industry funding so that we establish and cement our reputation as a global player in this vital area,” O’Brien said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years