Nanotechnology has evolved quickly over the past 40 years, in 1989 IBMs Don Eigler took 22 hours to arrange the letters ‘IBM’ with atoms.
Today it would take only a matter of minutes. It sounds like sci–fi, and it’s a mouthful to take in at once, but the capabilities of nanotechnology for the future are extraordinary.
Interested in investing in nanotechnology, or just want to know a bit more about the market? Read on.
The world’s smallest film using atoms by IBM
Generally speaking, it’s the manipulation of material under one micrometer. To put that into perspective, that’s 0.001 of a micrometer and around 800,000 times smaller than one strand of hair.
And when you begin working on this scale, things change dramatically. The laws of physics change, creating opportunities for scientists and engineers like never before. And as time has passed, scientists and engineers have been able to design and engineer objects down to singular atoms.
It’s a vast market that covers a wide range of industries like pharmaceuticals, healthcare (especially within cancer care and eradication), cosmetics, the automotive industry, electronics, and construction.
Everything within nanotechnology is based on nanomaterials, with the most famous example being carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes are cylindrical carbon structures measuring about one-billionth of a meter and have many mechanical applications, like water filters, energy storage, sports goods, and many more.
Dubbed as the ‘fifth technology revolution‘, the main purpose of nanotechnology research is to create cleaner, better, cheaper, and smarter products. For now, nanotechnology hasn’t hit the mainstream but it’s definitely an industry to keep an eye on.
As of now, it’s still heavily in R&D with major players getting involved. But there is an increasing demand for more equipment and devices that utilize nanotech. But it’s held back by the cost of devices and products using this technology, and the lack of skilled professionals in the field.
But by the 2020s, we’ll see it popping up on our news feed a lot more. It’s around this time that we’ll start seeing nanomachines used in medicine, and nano-based products becoming more widespread.
Set for growth…
The ‘Global Nanotechnology Market Outlook 2024’ has shown the projection of growth at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 16.5% percent between 2018-2025.
In 2017, the market size reached $7.24 billion, and if it’s to follow the predicted growth rate, it’ll increase to a whopping $24.56 billion by 2025.
The National Science Foundation has estimated that the U.S. will account for around 40% of the worldwide products and services made with nanotechnology.
The leaders in investment have been, for a long time, the US. But as other large economies become more innovative, there’s been a growing interest ‘in the commercialization of nanotechnology’.
China and the Middle East have been investing heavily. For example, China filed more US patents in nanotechnology than the US, and in 2016 they ranked number one worldwide, holding the most scientific papers and patents of nanotechnology.
Even so, there is a multitude of investors around the world, especially in federal-state funding towards research institutes.
Here are just some of the many investors in nanotechnology:
Investor Type: Venture Capital (mainly investing in diagnostic technologies)
Headquarters: Concord, USA
They recently financed Ceres Nanosciences, Inc in a Series A round.
Investor Type: Venture Capital
Headquarters: London, United Kingdom
Recent joint ventures include £1.5 million towards MOF Technologies.
Investor Type: Venture Capital
Headquarters: Menlo Park, USA
Along with Telegraph Hill and 5AM Ventures, Rising Tide invested in Precision Nanosystems Series B funding round, the second investment in the biotech startup.
Investor Type: Private Equity Firm
Headquarters: Greenwich, USA
A joint venture in a seed round for the biotech startup, Checkerspot.
Investor Type: Venture Capital
Headquarters: Palo Alto, USA
Mentioned above, Ven Rock was one of the investors in gene-editing startup Inscripta.
Investor Type: Angel Group
Headquarters: San Francisco, USA
A joint investment, along with Generation Ventures, in Nanotech Biomachine’s seed round.
Investor Type: Venture Capital & Growth
Headquarters: Palo Alto, USA
One of the biggest global investors, and has invested in biotech company Synthetic Genomics.
Investor Type: Non-profit startup accelerator
Headquarters: Boston, USA
This accelerator located in Boston, Israel, Mexico, Switzerland, Texas and the UK, invests on high-potential startups across all industries. For instance, in 2017 they invested in the nanotech startup Nano-Textile.
Investor Type: Venture Capital
Headquarters: Shanghai, China
This firm is focused on IT and digital media investments. For instance, in 2017 they invested in the British nanotech startup WaveOptics.
Investor Type: Corporate Venture Capital
Headquarters: Stuttgart, Germany
They invest in startups either directly or via venture capital funds. The last years they have been investing a lot in AI, nanotech and biotech, among other sectors.
Investor Type: Venture Capital
Headquarters: San Francisco, USA
Among their last year investments, they invested in Molekule, a startup which product purifies the air with nanotechnology.
The European Commission has labeled nanotechnology as one of the six ‘Key Enabling Technologies’ that will contribute to the growth of multiple industry sectors. It comes with promises of easing societal challenges like energy consumption and healthcare.
However, concerns over the safety of such technology are still uncertain. Opinion is divided on whether it’s harmful or not as it has yet to be investigated properly.
Some of the key industries involved in the vast and highly fragmented nanotechnology sector have been listed below.
It’s still in the research phase, and the application of nanotech in the agriculture sector is yet to see products hit the market. Researchers at nanotoday have covered the topic extensively and present how the technology could provide major improvements to agriculture.
Areas of research are particularly focused on reducing chemicals sprayed on crops, reducing the loss of nutrients in fertilization, and increasing crop yields through water and fertilization management.
Nanotechnology brings a truckload of innovation to the auto industry. From car shells with scratch resistant and dirt repellent nano varnish, tires with inexpensive and stable nano steel, to solar energy on cars, it’s non stop.
Dirt-repellent and scratch resistant paint are already on the market, along with air filters that use nanotech to filter pollutants and allow fresh air to encircle the interior of a car.
And for corporations to maintain a competitive edge in the automotive industry, it’s crucial for major players in the industry to implement this kind of technology.
Its involvement with nanotechnology is making it a rapidly advancing industry, and it’s an ‘early adopter of nanotechnology which routinely uses nano-scale ingredients‘.
However, tandfonline reports that it’s difficult to estimate the number of products that it’s used in, as it’s not mandatory to include on product labels.
There are concerns over its safety, as people are unsure of the effect of carbon nanotubes on organs. Long-term exposure, according to J Pharm Bioallied Sci, has caused kidney cells to die.
L’Oreal and Estee Lauder have both entered the world of nano-cosmetics, with L’Oreal investing $600 million in nano patents.
The construction industry has, and will continue to see a number of positive changes with nanotechnology, especially within energy conservation.
According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) buildings consume ‘one-third of total end-use energy and cause a fifth of total greenhouse gas emissions’.
With this level of energy consumption, nanoparticles bring about more energy efficient construction materials. Nanoparticles in construction are already on the commercial market, with nanostructure metals, carbon nanotubes, nanofibers, and more. Nano silica mean stronger cement, concrete, and steel, making these materials stronger, fire resistant and self-healing, among other traits.
Nanotechnology provides the potential for improvement of energy storage and the retrieval of oil and gas. Most notably, it will play an increasing role in the ‘use of solar energy through photovoltaic (an electric current produced from exposure to light) systems’.
With the application of nanotechnology in these sectors, it will bring major cost cuts, and make the energy sector more efficient. This sector will also have applications in other sectors, such as construction, electricity generated from waste heat, textiles with electricity generating garments and the expanded capacity for windmill energy storage.
According to Moore’s law, the number of transistors in an integrated circuit would double every two years, while the cost would half. It causes computing power to increase, and as of yet, the average transistor has shrunk to impossible sizes.
At one point we will achieve maximum minimalization of silicon circuits. With the technologies and physical laws discovered it will be impossible to make them smaller within silicones possibilities, that’s why there is a high need for new solutions. Mono-layered graphene is a great substitute because of it’s conductive properties and low cost.
Graphene is the product you’re left with after a carbon nanotube has been split, leaving a single layer of carbon atoms. A cool property of graphene is that it’s the strongest material that’s ever been tested and it’s good at conducting electricity and heat.
It’s the area with the greatest potential. There are constant breakthroughs in the diagnosis and treatment of major health conditions, especially within cancer treatment, with more advanced solutions hitting the commercial market every year.
It has an application in many areas of healthcare and biotech, namely drug targeting, enhancing the efficiency of drugs, diagnostic detection, biopharmaceuticals, biomolecular engineering, and many more.
Its impressive growth has, in part, been attributed to the increase ‘in government and private sector funding for R&D, partnerships and strategic alliances between countries, and an increasing demand’ for smaller devices with more computing power at a lower price.
The two most notable sources for gathering information on patents would be the United States Patents and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the European Patent Office (EPO), and according to data provided by Orbit Databank, over 20,187 nanotechnology patents were released by the USPTO in 2017 alone…
Statnano provides a list of the top ten countries with granted nanotech patents, as of 2017 with information gathered from the USPTO and EPO. The data shows that the number with the highest number of patents in 2017 was filed by the United States (with over 5,500+, and 51.7% of the USPTO patents), followed by South Korea with 1200 patents.
With the help of implants, brains will restore lost memory with neural implants that will help to unlock the potential of the human brain.
With test already beginning to take place, the reality of this happening within the next five years is a possibility. The startup, Kernel, has already performed tests on animals and epileptic patients, and Johnson, the founder, hopes to take the tests to a wider group.
The year 2023 is forecast to bring significant advancements in the health sector. Within the next five years, organs will supposedly regenerate at a rate previously thought impossible.
We’re already able to print out organs, which is a huge step for healthcare. We’re not able to print out organs completely, but technology is evolving. This science behind it is called tissue engineering.
At present, there are wireless pads that charge your phone, and that’s already pretty cool. Samsung, Dell, and Apple have released phones that can charge wirelessly. But we’re still striving for a world without any wires what-so-ever. One contender is doing just that.
Tech.co reports that Disney has created a technology that can charge your phone just by entering a room by ‘generating magnetic fields’. There’s just one problem, the prototype room is covered in aluminum. But while they’re facing issues, complete wireless charging for all devices is a possibility for the future.
Ray Kurzweil predicted in 2016 that by 2029, the advancements in health care would mean that the life expectancy would increase by one year on an annual basis.
And by 2028, we’ll be closer to that prediction with smartphones. With an inbuilt breathalyzer, our mobile phones will be capable of detecting disease through screen technology that analyses your breath.
By 2035, humans will communicate with one another telepathically with the help of computers. It will become the next step in the evolution of human intelligence. To some, this may sound like science fiction, but researchers have already made discoveries in ‘brain-to-brain communication using non-invasive technology‘.
According to the world economic forum, in 2030, investment into renewable energy will quadruple as coal becomes a thing of the past, a global price for carbon will be set, and Europe will be the center for the production of next-generation renewables.
Flash to 15 years from now. Healthcare begins to see even crazier advances beyond organ regeneration and artificial vision. Nanorobots will perform cellular repairs that could cure almost any disease, and cancer will no longer be considered a serious illness.
In 2038, the population will exceed 9 billion, and the sales of electric vehicles will reach over 18 million. Sustainable energy will account for at least 80% of the world energy supply by 2050.
The only problem – the technology that will enable energy to be captured better isn’t there yet. They don’t exist naturally and have to be designed to capture the sun more efficiently.
3D printers will print out a lot more in 2045. It’s predicted that at this point, humans will be able to print out full and functioning organs, not just their tissue with protein-based engineering.
They’ll also be able to print medicine and food, although, Bartmoss St. Clair, a nanotechnology enthusiast, states that advancements in this sector could be held back or limited due to outdated regulations.
The following list includes young companies that use nanotechnology.
Headquarters: Rehovot, Israel
Technology: 3D nanoparticle printing that hit the market in 2018. It’s applicable in both metal and ceramic manufacturing.
Headquarters: Tel Aviv, Israel
Technology: A 3D printing company disrupting the industry and changing how products are made. They are able to print hardware, making it more cost and time efficient.
Headquarters: Västerås, Sweden
Technology: A young startup that has teamed up with Add North 3D to create a 3D printer, capable of printing circuit boards, electromagnetic shielding, and more, using graphene-based materials. It’s expected to reach the market in half a year or more.
Headquarters: Jessup, Maryland, United States
Technology: They develop graphene-based products for the industrial market, like graphene-infused rubber with ‘extreme strength‘, weather and heat resistant, with undeniable stability and conductive properties.
3D printing is everywhere. The only problem is it’s vastly expensive, especially when it comes to printing objects on the nanoscale. And while there are multiple 3D printers on the market, there aren’t many printing out graphene. There’s a problem with graphene printing though. It’s expected to completely ‘disrupt the semiconductor industry, but they’re stuck in R&D’.
As it’s such a new technology, it’ll take a long time for crazy changes to take place like we’ve been promised (like elevators to space). But the point is, there will be advances, it’ll just take time as graphene will bring insane improvements to technologies that we already have, so it needs to be perfect.
Headquarters: Vancouver, Canada
Technology: A biotechnology company that is aiming for the stars. Their bioprinting technology is capable of creating human tissues on demand for therapeutic discovery and regenerative medicine.
Headquarters: Boston, MA, USA
Technology: the first organ-on-a-chip company who received $36 million in their Series C funding in June.
Headquarters: Zurich, Switzerland
Technology: They build 3D cell models on the nanoscale, and became the no.1 startup in Switzerland. In June they received $10 million in a series D from a single investor.
Headquarters: Leiden, the Netherlands
Technology: A company that has developed a gut, kidney and more on a chip. They received $20.5 million in a Series B investment in April.
Headquarters: Swansea, United Kingdom
Technology: A bioprinting manufacturer looking to print skin, muscle, and bone in the future. They were the first to bring bioprinting to the market at an affordable price.
Companies aren’t at the level of printing out human brains and hearts just yet, but scientists have worked tirelessly to create groundbreaking 3D bioprinting techniques all with the help of nanotechnology startups. The science behind it is called tissue engineering and there are slight links to nanotech.
It’s an incredibly relevant technology that could help save countless lives, as 20 people die per day waiting for an organ donor. With this powerful tool, scientists could begin to understand human organs and tissue unlike ever before. At this rate, scientists will be well on the way to hitting the 2045 deadline.
Headquarters: Tel Aviv, Israel
Technology: Can fully charge a battery in one minute. Uses nanotechnology in the form of quantum dots, and amassed $20 million in funding from BP in May 2018.
Headquarters: Fort Collins, CO, USA
Technology: Has built a new type of ion battery with nanomaterials, with their latest Series B funding in January raising $1.2 million.
Headquarters: Los Angeles, CA, USA
Technology: Unlike most battery companies, this startup is using graphene instead of lithium-ion to create super batteries, capable of charging electric cars in a matter of minutes. They raised $3.4 million this April.
Headquarters: Lucerne, Switzerland
Technology: Develops and markets lithium-ion batteries and works closely with the Laboratory for Nanotechnology at ETH.
Headquarters: San Jose, CA, USA
Technology: This technology enables you to charge your device just by entering the room, and it can charge any device from up to 15m away.
A dead battery…it’s something everyone has to deal with. And while power banks are one solution, there are startups working on a battery life that will knock your socks off. While it’s not solely related to nanotechnology, it still uses the technology in creating next-generation batteries by utilizing nanotechnology in the form of quantum dots and other nanomaterials.
In terms of leaders in the field, the most ‘newsworthy’ would be Elon Musk’s Neuralink. Founded in 2016, Neuralink, like most of Musks ventures, aims high with futuristic innovation that creates industry innovation. Don’t let the simplistic website fool you, the minds behind this project have formed a ‘super-think tank’, with all the parties involved working seamlessly together.
Neuralink has been described by some as a brain-machine interface development project. And it’s considered his biggest project yet. If Musk were to succeed with this crazy startup, it would make it possible for brains to communicate with computers using thought.
Headquarters: Boston, IL, USA
Technology: Ginkgo Bioworks, amassed the two largest deals last year, raising $275 million. They’re set to reach unicorn status anytime soon.
Headquarters: Seattle, WA, USA
Technology: Pulled in an impressive $12 million Series A in 2017. The company designs enzymes for both manufacturing and agriculture. With a key customer being DuPont, they’re making waves.
Headquarters: Seattle, WA, USA
Technology: Their Series A totaled $8M and they raised over $11M in total in seed and Series A rounds. Their focus is on their commercialized protein-design software named Cyrus Bench, a user-friendly version of their existing open source software package name Rosetta.
Headquarters: Boulder, CO, USA
Technology: A biotech/pharmaceutical focusing on gene-editing. In February they received $55.5 million in their Series C round.
Synthetic engineering uses robotics, Ai and other sophisticated software to redesign proteins to do specific jobs. It’s attracting many VC’s, with the top synthetic biology companies raking in $1.7 billion in 2017. Needless to say, it’s an industry to keep an eye on.
One of the reasons why it’s become such a field of interest is to do with its capabilities if perfected. If synthetic biology reaches new heights, it has the possibility almost every industry related to physical materials. It’s such a broad subject that is applicable to both the consumer goods market, and industrial chemicals, and medicine.
Headquarters: Cambridge, UK
Technology: focuses on transforming cancer patient care though liquid biopsy, Ai, and smart genomics. Using their tech, they will predict ‘the best therapeutic strategy for cancer patients before treatment.’
Headquarters: Wisconsin, United States
Technology: uses ‘revolutionary cancer care’ which delivers precise therapy to tumors. With their technology, they can turn drug release on and off in real time.
Headquarters: Vancouver, Canada
Technology: They primarily develop tools and processes in the development of nanoparticles that can be used in health care. They recently raised $6 million in their Series B in June.
Headquarters: Houston, TX, USA
Technology: Researchers at Rice University are creating small molecules that are capable of delivering medicine. These molecules are turned into mechanical machines but on the nanoscale. They are capable of drilling through cell membranes, bringing lots of possibility to cancer treatment.
Researchers from Durham and Rice University have demonstrated how their nanomachine can pierce membranes in cells. The technology could be used to drill holes into the membranes of individual cancer cells, essentially killing them.
“These nanomachines are so small, we could park 50,000 of them across the diameter of a human hair, yet they have the targeting and actuating components combined in that diminutive package to make molecular machines a reality for treating disease,” – Prof James Tour.
Headquarters: San Diego, CA
Technology: Received $40 million in funding. They use algae to yield biofuels, and they can get 5 times as much from algae than from sugar cane or corn.
Headquarters: Toronto, Canada
Technology: Uses industrial greenhouse gases to grow algae and other biomass using bioreactors. They completed a funding round of $8.7M in early 2018.
Headquarters: Dallas, TX, USA
Technology: Last but not least, electricity generating yarn. It’s made with carbon nanotubes that have been twisted together. Developed by the University of Texas, the yarn generates energy when stretched, and can bring tides of innovation to wave energy production. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many startups as the technology is still far away from being commercialized.
Headquarters: Quebec, Canada
Technology: PyroGenesis is well known for its ‘design, development, manufacturing and commercialization of advanced plasma processes.’
Headquarters: Red Bank, New Jersey, United States
Technology: They’re disrupting the solar cell industry by creating a new black silicon cell that could, in theory, replace the silver in solar cells making them cheaper.
We are running out of fossil fuels, and that’s a scary prospect. Research suggests the biofuels market will reach $246 billion by 2024. That’s a tiny amount in comparison to the $1,720 billion oil market.
But research into alternative forms of energy is taking place around the world, and biofuels are set to grow after wind energy, opening lots of doors for new start-ups and larger corporates. Although it should be noted that different segments of the renewable energy sector are at various stages of development.
Founded: ca. 2017
Headquarters: Michigan, USA
Technology: Researched by Michigan University, they can help prevent bacteria from spreading by engineering small nanoparticles that will nestle themselves into bacteria.
Headquarters: London, UK
Technology: Professors including Rachel McKendry from the London Centre for Nanotechnology are heavily investing their time in the subject, hoping to create medical breakthroughs.
There hasn’t been a single new class of antibiotics since 1980, and the threat of antibiotic resistance is growing ever stronger. Nanobiotics are paving the way to becoming a new class of antibiotics. But it’s a slow process, and this technology is still in its research stages.
Headquarters: Herzliya, Israel
Technology: A startup that’s in it’s development stages. They are creating a device that will restore vision in people with retinal degenerative disorders.
Headquarters: Jerusalem, Israel
Technology: This research has developed eye drops that can restore vision. Clinical trials will be taking place this year, although experiments have been conducted on pig eyes.
There have been incredible advancements in optometry for a long time, take laser eye surgery for example. However, there are new forms of technology making their way to the forefront. One research institute uses small cameras to convert visual information into an auditory input.
Headquarters: Durham, NC
Technology: Earned over $160.9 million in funding, and they have a huge list of investors like GGV Capital and Oak Investment Partners. They use their technology in countless products like refrigerators and fiber optics.
Headquarters: Silicon Valley, CA
Technology: Uses waste heat to gather energy. They are focusing on the auto industry, which makes sense as General Motors was one of their investors.
Headquarters: Menlo Park, CA, USA
Technology: Uses thermoelectric and nanotechnology to increase battery life.
Thermoelectric energy. It has been around for a while, although venture capitalists are beginning to invest big money because of the advancements in nanotechnology.
What is it?
The idea is you can convert electricity into heat using a chip (computer chips would do the job). There are many startups recycling this old technology and making it ten times better by using nanotechnology.
The interactive map below shows the locations of all the mentioned startups and investors. Each pin marks the location together with some extra details about the company.
How far away is the human race is from achieving a carbon nanotube elevator heading straight to space, or a printed out set of lungs? That’s a question we won’t be able to answer for quite a while.
But the excitement and enthusiasm for nanotechnology in R&D, government funding and venture capital is evident. One thing is for sure, the future looks promising.
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