G-TeC (Global Technology Comparison) was done on the theme of“ nanotechnologies”.
G-TeC has the mission to contribute for creating R&D Strategies and/or Science & Technology Policies, by gathering various evidences through surveys. In principle, for gathering evidences, we use three-stepped approaches consisting of basic surveys and site visits.
At the first step, through basic surveys, we investigate trends and movements of “policies & funding” and “institutes & human resources”, both at academia-sides and industry-sides.
At the second step, through site visits, we have meetings with top-class research institutes, funding agencies, and other related organizations in the world, and extract important issues for selected research themes.
Then, at the third step, we evaluate our findings gathered through basic surveys and site visits, and to identify priorities as evidences for creating R&D Strategies and/or Science & Technology Policies.
In this G-TeC, we set two objectives. First, we investigated trends & movements of nanotechnologies globally. And second, we considered their promising R&D scenarios to apply into energy & environment.
Main results are as follows.
1) In US and EU, movements to apply nanotechnologies into energy & environment have been enhanced. This is because, for realizing low-carbon societies, is it essential to develop new energy & environmental systems with less carbon emissions, where nanotechnologies should take key roles for creating such an innovation.
2) In US, researches for energy & environment have been strengthened, supported by new science & technology policies under President Obama (so called “green new deal”). According to this, nanotech researches for energy & environment have also been activated remarkably.
3) In EU, since 2008, nanotech research communities have put their priorities on application into energy & environment, at major international meetings such as “EuroNanoForum” and“ Nanotech Europe”.
4) At the EuroNanoForum 2009, held in June of 2009,“nanotechnology for sustainable economy” was selected as a main topic, and concentrated discussions were done from various viewpoints, such as nanotechnology for energy, nanotechnology for eco & energy-efficient industry production, nanotechnology for health & environment, and so on.
5) Among these movements, the change in US is outstanding. That is, nanotechnologies are well-positioned as scientific bases for energy innovation, at the new research initiative called“ Energy Frontier Research Centers”
6) Dr. Steven Chu, secretary of US Department of Energy, announced “three new research initiatives for energy”, at the senate committee on appropriations held in May of 2009.
7) The first initiative is “Energy Frontier Research Centers”, where 46 energy research centers are created in US, with the budget of approximately 777 million dollars covering 5 years. This is a supportive mechanism for fundamental researches, not for application. And mainly, funding for research teams at universities.
8) The second initiative is “Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy”, where high-risk & high-reward researches are promoted for creating innovative technologies. This is a supportive mechanism for application researches, not for fundamental. And the budget of approximately 400 million dollars has been prepared from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
9) The third initiative is “Energy Innovation Hubs”, where a series of researches are promoted not only for fundamental but application and engineering aspects. This is a supportive mechanism to create “under one roof” structures, attracting various top research talents from multidisciplinary fields in a same place. So, hubs can be called“ Bell Laboratories for Energy”. More than 100 million dollars are invested to each hub covering 5 years.
10) At the beginning of three initiatives, in April of 2009, the award result of Energy Frontier Research Centers was announced, and 46 centers were selected from about 260 final proposals. Reviewing research plans of these centers, it is clear that nanotechnologies are considered as scientific bases for energy innovation in most centers. It means that nanotech research communities should take key roles at energy researches from now on.
11) Based on these initiatives, energy researches in US will be enhanced continuously, and nanotech application into energy & environment will also be promoted.
12) To evaluate Energy Frontier Research Centers on their characters as funding schemes, it is found that they take importance on the mechanism of“ Use-Inspired Fundamental Researches”, for promoting nanotech application to energy & environment.
13) In the case of Energy Frontier Research Centers, at first, they envisioned future energy systems for US, and then, selected 46 centers to engage fundamental researches for realizing their visions. This is very different from former funding schemes.
14) In other words, firstly, social uses were envisioned, and secondly, fundamental researches for social uses were identified. That means, Energy Frontier Research Centers is just a funding scheme for use-inspired fundamental researches.
15) Why they take importance on use-inspired fundamental researches are;Former fundamental researches in energy fields were mostly curiosity-driven researches. As the result, high quality papers published in top journals like “Nature” were often created. But, research outcomes enabling to be a trigger for energy innovation were rarely found.
16) Therefore, in addition to curiosity-driven fundamental researches, they enhanced use-inspired fundamental researches, and made well-balanced funding portfolios with two types. Based on these funding portfolios, they are aiming to promote energy innovation derived from fundamental researches.
17) In order to design funding schemes for use-inspired fundamental researches, US Department of Energy held a series of workshops before establishment of Energy Frontier Research Centers. At these workshops, firstly, they envisioned multiple social uses in energy fields (economic society utilizing hydrogen energy, high efficient utilization of solar energy, and so on), and then, fundamental researches for these social uses were identified through workshops. Top research talents from multidisciplinary fields were invited all over the US, and crosscutting discussions were done both on fundamental and application aspects.
18) As the result, key issues were identified. First, energy problems are too enormous and too complicated. Second, therefore, it is impossible to solve these problems by small research communities covering limited research areas. Third, in order to solve problems, it is indispensable to create new scientific knowledge bases. Forth, especially, it is important to explore scientific disciplines on atomic levels, instead of device levels. Fifth, that means, it is essential to strengthen nanotech researches for energy innovation.
19) Based on these assumptions, the funding scheme for Energy Frontier Research Centers was designed. Therefore, the reason why most centers took importance on nanotechnologies was;It was not the result to find energy problems nanotechnologies can solve, but the result to explore appropriate solutions for energy problems.
20) Through discussions at IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), COP (Conference of The Parties) and others,“ Global Warming” has been defined as a international problem to be solved all over the world. For realizing low-carbon societies, roles of each country and/or area are being identified with targets of 2020 and 2050.
21) Therefore, each country and/or area should envision their future energy & environmental systems with various aspects, including life styles and economic & social conditions. And, based on these targets, they should identify fundamental researches necessary for their targeted systems.
22) Because of these backgrounds, in US and EU, efforts to apply nanotechnologies into energy & environment are expanding. Especially, in US, nanotechnologies are well-positioned as scientific bases for energy innovation, and nanotech researches for energy & environment have been activated.
23) In US, they take importance on use-inspired fundamental researches. With the new research initiative of Energy Frontier Research Centers, firstly, they envisioned targeted future systems, and secondly, identified fundamental researches for their targeted systems. They aim to increase research outcomes enabling to promote energy innovation.
24) Considering these trends in US and EU, it would be a promising R&D scenario for nanotechnologies. That is, firstly, unique and superior functions and/or phenomena derived by nanotechnologies are implemented as systems. Secondly, these nanosystems are utilized as solutions for energy & environmental problems. And thirdly, in this scenario, use-inspired fundamental researches are enhanced in order to maximize research outcomes towards energy innovation.