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german nanotechnologies @ iit

Tuesday 5 May, 2009

I attended this luncheon & workshop sponsored by Saarland (Germany) Technology Corp. & IIT which focused on nanotechnologies.  The breaking news is that STC signed a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) indicating its intention to open an office in the IIT Technology Park.

At the luncheon Dr. Arzt (Dr. Dr. in German), let us know the Institute for New Materials in Saarland has spun off 12 companies, of which Nanogate became its 1st IPO.  Because it’s located near the French border, you get the best of both worlds, French food & German administration.  INM has a 17M Euro budget & 180 employees, including 25phd students.  They generally focus on 3 areas:

  • chemical nanotechnologies-smart coatings & guiding light
  • interface materials-switchable surfaces
  • biological materials-scratch, wear, corrosion protection/resistance.

The workshop the next morning went into further depth about each of these areas.  Saarland employs 10,000 in IT & 7,000 in life sciences, & has an R&D institute with 1000 scientists.  Nanotech has grown 50X & has been funded 47% by government, 46% by industry, & only 7% by venture capital.  Germany has 600 nanocompanies, including 120 big industry players, & employs 50,000.  The nanoindustry has matured in that in the last 5 years the understanding has changed from figuring out the technology to developing the market applications.  Nanobio is showing the highest growth.

Applications include:

  • functional coatings, which allow some self-cleaning
  • building size holography
  • bird-window collision/avoidance

Nanogate has succeeded by focusing on providing 200 system solutions in 3 business units (automotive, buildings, sports) rather than competing on material prices.  They position themselves like BASF, using nanostructures to improve the properties of materials.  They’re like an IT company in that they’ve developed a platform to program materials to meet customer needs.  They’ve developed new products with Dow Chemical & are focusing on the US market.  Exports already account for 40% of their revenues.

Here’s what the panel discussion brought out:

  • the path from idea to product can take up to 10 years, or as fast as 6 months when optimized, but takes 2 years on average.
  • glass coatings can let in more light but with less heat, but is still not strong enough-many are still thinking reflection
  • placing bets on profitability is difficult, especially since many new technologies are competing against existing solutions & not other new technologies
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