• 11 April 2006
  • News
  • By Narayan Kulkarni

Nanotechnology is the buzzword

Nanotechnology is the buzzword

Nanotechnology is the buzzword

India has a huge potential to market nanotech products. Careful and select investments in nanotechnology can catalyze the country's economic development and stability and pave way for its transformation into a developed nation by 2020.

The convergence of nanotechnology and biotechnology has created an opportunity for the innovative development of medical advances spanning the continuum of drug discovery and development. Nanotechnology offers cheaper and faster medical diagnosis, new therapeutics and novel methods of drug delivery with many of these technologies currently in preclinical or clinical development. Because of the creation of nanotechnology tools, we are finally on the verge of taking biotech to the nanoscale-and the view is breathtaking. Convergence of nanotechnology, a functional engineering on an extremely small scale with biotechnology will not only produce high tech products at low cost but will also prolong life via preventing illness and improved health.

India cannot afford to miss the revolution in nanotechnology and must make investments in the area carefully. "We cannot do that again in the area of nanotechnology which may become big in the next five-six years," noted eminent nano scientist CNR Rao. It was important to select areas to make investments in nanotechnology. Only in the next 10-15 years, the effects of nanotechnology would start becoming visible.

Research in nanotechnology is being carried out in about 20 academic and scientific institutions like University of Delhi, IIT (Mumbai, Kharagpur, Delhi), DRDE (Gwalior), IISc (Bangalore), NCL (Pune), NIPER (Chandigarh) and CCMB (Hyderabad). The Department of Science and Technology has allocated Rs 100 crore for R&D under scheme 'Nano sciences and Nanotechnology Initiative'. This is very small in comparison to the investments made in other countries like the US, the UK, Germany, and Japan. There is a need to increase funding in nanotechnology.

Prof Jayesh Bellare, head, projects Nano biosciences, IIT Bombay said, "The industry is also exploring the opportunities in nanotechnology. There are about 100 odd pharmaceutical/ biotechnology and biomedical companies in India are working on nano-based technologies. As of now the major funding for nanotech R&D is happening from government agencies. The private sector too is spending on nanotech but it is very small in size."


Considering the huge market potential for nanoparticles in India, companies from China, Japan and Iran are entering the domestic market through tie-ups. An Iranian company called Tide Waters has entered into a tie-up with Mumbai-based SSB Technology to market its range of products under the brand Nanocid in India.

Sharing his views about the Indian market potential for nano materials/particles, M Karagarfard, a nano biotechnology expert and engineer in chief at Tide Waters said, "We know that our Indian friends know their responsibility towards the society much better. The more the population the more the problems. We would like to solve the problems though our range of products. We are also planning to set up a manufacturing plant in India so as to export to other neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan from India. At present we are producing 50 metric tons of nanoparticles at Iran to meet the demand from customers based in Canada, Turkey, Ankar and Italy."

Besides public sector R&D institutions, there are companies in India that are working/doing research on nanotechnology. They are Cranes Software International Limited, Monad Nanotech, Velbionanotech, Innovations Unified Technologies, Qtech Nanosystems and Naga Nanotech India.

According to Anurag Gupta, CEO, Yash Nanotech, business information and consulting arm of Yash Management & Satellite Ltd, specialized in nanotechnology, "There are a handful of companies involved in the business of nanotechnology in the country. The government funding in nanotechnology R&D will be about Rs 100 crore in the next five years. Leading companies like Reliance, Tata Group and Mahindra and Mahindra are also making investments in this upcoming space. There is very good scope of growth in biomedical and diagnosis space."

Cranes Software International Limited has research set up for MEMS and Nanotechnology at India's leading institutions like the IISc, Bangalore.

Velbionanotech, ranked ASIA's Top 100 Bio Nanotechnology companies by Red Herring in 2005, is designing drugs for various diseases such as heart disease, kidney stones, AIDS, cancer, cosmetic generic products using a short fragment of DNA as a new type of drugs. These drugs are assembled in nanochips and as nano particles for delivering in human body, which are affective in curing the sick/diseased and healing the injured. Velbionanotech product and technology are focused for molecular level. BioNano products are diverged as Biochip and Nanomedicine. VBN's bionanotechnology products are categorized as bionanochip, nano medicine, nano material, Microdoctor, nano sensors and herbal medicine.

Monad Nanotech is another company producing carbon nano materials (CNM) commercially using low cost production technology developed by Prof Maheswar Sharon's group at IIT Mumbai, who has two patents and 38 research publications to his credit on carbon nano materials. The team has been working on not only synthesis of carbon nano material; but also on their futuristic applications. Monad Nanotech has been supplying many nano materials - MWCNT1-3 Nano beads 1-2, nano fibers 1-4, fibrous carbon nano size metals and porous carbon gas diffusion fuel cell electrodes- to the research organizations in India. Dr Madhuri Sharon, managing director, Monad Nanotech, feels the market for nanotech particle is very huge and growing very fast.

Besides doing research and development and producing nano materials, Monad Nanotech has taken up the agency of Shenzhen Nanotech Port Co. Ltd., (NTP) China for sales rights in India and Canada. Similarly Monad has taken the agency of Meijo Nano Carbon, Nagoya, Japan for world marketing rights for its products excluding Japan.

Innovations Unified Technologies conceptualized by a group of IIT Bombay alumnus, having specialization in nanotechnology, working on to supply small and bulk quantities of MWNT/SWNT produced by its pilot plant in three different grades.

Qtech Nanosystems is a "technology incubation enterprise" focused on making products based on nanotechnology. It is currently engaged in product development and commercialization for Nanopositioning stages for nanotechnology and other varied precision applications.

In addition to these we find companies that are supporting these companies with tools and analytical equipment. According to NanoIndian.com, FEI Company, Veeco Asia, Nanosolar, Sigma Aldrich, Nanoprobes, Quantum Sphere, Nanonics Immaging, an Israeli company represented by Labindia Instruments, VWR, Icon Analytical Equipment and Forevision Instruments are active in selling nanotechnology tools to the Indian companies.

There are non-government organizations working to act as bridge between academy and industry in nanotechnology. The Nanotechnology Research and Innovation Foundation (IndiaNano) is one such non-profit organization supported by academic and industry experts aimed at developing a platform for real-time strategic collaboration between diverse groups in order to harness the benefits of progress in advanced technologies, including nanotechnology. This initiative is seed funded by IndiaCo, a private equity investment holding company that invests in hi-tech companies that can access global markets and supported by National Chemical Laboratory, Girvan Institute of Technology and The Centre for Materials for Electronics Technology.

The IndiaNano has "Innovation Acceleration Network (IAN) designed to bridge the gap between invention and commercial reality, by providing pragmatic support for technology entrepreneurs in the areas of Operations, Intellectual Property Management, Business development and Technology Transfer so as to create ventures that could compete in global markets.

In January 2006 the Nanotechnology Research and Innovation Foundation and the Regional Research Laboratory, Trivandrum (RRL-T) have forged a strategic partnership that will allow the pooling of their respective expertise and thereby facilitate the commercialization of technologies within RRL to the industries in India and across the globe.

The Nano Science and Technology Consortium is another organization that works to create a platform conducive for the growth, promotion and partnering in the field of Nano Science and Technology taking together industries, academics and government through consultative, advisory and educative processes which will provide growth platform for organizations, academics and governments for harnessing the nano potential at global level. It is a non-governmental, industry-managed and promoted organization with a role of facilitator for nano developmental processes.


The world for nanomaterials in electronic, magnetic and opto-electronic applications is supposed to increase from $333 million in 2000 to $667 million in 2005 at the world level. This shows that there is a strong economic incentive to develop this new specialty area. This is also reflected in the launching of National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) in July 2000 in the US and Nanomaterials Science and Technology Initiative (NSTI) in 2003 in India.

Considering the potential, in 2005 Cientifica announced the launch of a joint venture with India's YashNanotech to outsource nanotechnology R&D. Cientifica will serve as the public international face of the venture, while Yash will manage the Indian operation.

Anurag Gupta of YashNanotech said, "The company is already in advanced talks with a number of world-class Indian research institutes, and is planning to set up a number of manufacturing units and facilities designed to take advantage of the new materials and markets enabled by nanotechnologies.

"Veeco Instruments opened a nanoscience center in Bangalore in partnership with the Jawaharlal Nehru Center for Advanced Scientific Research. Veeco, which makes atomic force microscopes and other nanotechnology research equipment. The company sees not just a new R&D outsource location but also a burgeoning market for its products.

Dr Murali Sastry, chief scientist, Tata Chemicals, said "India has huge potential in nanotechnology. Unlike services, it is knowledge-based industry with long gestation period just like biotechnology. Hence India needs a paradigm shift. With strong public private partnership and no government interference, the nanotechnology industry will reach new heights in the coming years."

Dr Ramgopal Rao, head, center for research in nanotechnology and science, Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai said, "The WHO has predicted exponential rise in cardiac problems among Indians by 2020. This is mainly because of changing in eating habits and other health related issues. Even there is demand from the medical fraternity for biochips, markers, and sensors so that they can identify and diagnose the disease at early stage. So diagnosis has emerged as a key area of research for Indian scientists to work using nanotechnology."

Sharing his thoughts, Prof Jayesh Bellare, head, project Nano biosciences, IIT Bombay said, "There are vast opportunities for nanotechnology in biotechnology in the field of biomedical, pharmaceutical and diagnosis space. Although the market is not so big but it has good potential to grow big." He also stressed on the need for strong relation between industry academia in nanotechnology.

Dr Rajah Kumar, CEO, Center for Advance Research & Development said, "Early diagnosis, drug delivery system, biomarkers are areas where nanotechnology has applications that will have a big impact on the quality of human life in India and have greater impact on Indian healthcare economy."

Commenting on the opportunities for India, Tim Harper, CEO, Cientifica Ltd said, " In three key areas - primary industries, local solutions, world class niches-India has a lot of potential which includes medical and pharmaceutical industry. Increase in better life style and early diagnosis, prevention of many diseases, reduce cost on healthcare would drive the growth of nanotechnology in India. Large companies like Reliance, Tatas are looking at nanotechnology to produce home grown technologies to meet the local demands/ requirements. Although China has about 1000 start-ups in nanotechnology, India has an edge over China because of its skilled and talented human resources."

Dr GU Kulkarni, nanomaterial group member at Jawaharlal Nehru Center for Advanced Scientific Research, said, "There is enthusiasm among the people about nanotechnology and they want to participate in this sector. But there are issues like policy, monitoring, implantation, which need immediate attention."

Besides, the other key bottleneck facing the development of nanotechnology in India is the venture capital funds necessary for further growth of the companies. Hence KL Chugh, chairman, ASSOCHAM Knowledge Millennium Council sought creation of mega fund which should run in crores of rupees and encourage research and detailed knowledge in nano and bio technologies and also create a climate so that youngsters are motivated to study physics, chemistry and biology as these sciences would always have a potential to generate research that will create abundance in wealth.

Government initiatives

Realizing the huge potential of this technology, the Government of India has started supporting various research and commercialization activities related to nanotechnology.

The Department of Science and Technology through its Nano Science and Technology Initiative (NSTI) supports R&D by individual scientists. It has been instrumental in the establishment of research facilities and setting up core groups and awareness programs through seminars and conferences. Even the Department of Biotechnology has been funding many projects on nano biotechnology. The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry has also prepared a program on applications of nanotechnology in the manufacturing sector to be submitted to the Planning Commission for the 10th Plan.

The President of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam has also been promoting nanotechnology as the vehicle for increasing wealth and improving the quality of life in the impoverished nation of more than a billion people. He emphasis is on the technology's role as a catalyst for economic development and stability. His goal is to 'transform India into a developed nation by 2020'. Dr Kalam said, "Nanotechnology is knocking at our doors". It is the field of the future. India has to utilize this opportunity as it has tremendous application potential in the areas of medicine, electronics and material science.

This technology is still in its infancy in the country. Scientists are trying to establish interdisciplinary centers for nanotechnology research. There is lack of understanding about nanotechnology between bureaucracy and polity and other wings of policy making in India. They are yet to understand the significance of convergence between nano and biotechnologies and other fundamental sciences as a result of which India is far behind in their integration from economies of scale.

Admitting this, Kapil Sibal, Cabinet minister for science and technology said, "Until a coordinated and pro-active approach was adopted towards integration of advance sciences, the best of inventions undertaken by our scientists will fail to get project coordination work that will evade us investments and higher yield in areas of agriculture, horticulture, food products and even in manufacturing."

He therefore sought a paradigm shift in the current behaviour and thinking pattern of Indian polity, its bureaucracy towards generating alliance and integration of advance sciences like nano and bio technologies to keep India ahead of all developing economies that are either its neighbor or in the far east region. The current prototype approach of policy makers towards scientific developments needed to be reversed to move India forward so that it can rise and increase its outputs through adoption of integration of nano and bio technologies that will bring about revolution in the field of Indian agriculture and even manufacturing.

The minister also felt that India needs to launch an intensive and aggressive political movement that can bring about the required alliance and convergence between bio and nano technologies to make it a leader in harnessing its natural wealth in sectors like agriculture, horticulture and manufacturing.

Dr Kalam has proposed the establishment of "World Knowledge Platform" which will combine the core competence of the partners in the area of convergence of technologies in bio-info-nano technologies for the design, development and product realization.

"I am confident that the Indian nano technology initiatives are maturing into marketable products for worldwide applications. Industries from abroad and India are keen to take our technologies and to commercialize. Indian industries should now take the lead and become a partner in the nano science and technology ventures to capture the international market," Kalam added.

Global scenario

According to researchers at the University of North Carolina, nanoparticles might enable a more targeted and effective delivery of anti-cancer drugs than current treatments and have the potential to reduce side effects associated with chemotherapy. The nanoparticles are designed at the molecular level to attack specific kinds of cancer without harming healthy cells, This is one example for the application of nanotechnology. They are many more that can change the life of human beings.

As per reports, approximately $65 billion in drug revenues every year are accounted for by pharmaceuticals with poor bio-availability which far too often results in higher patient costs and inefficient treatment and more importantly, increased risks of toxicity or even death. Because nanotechnology focuses on the very small, it is uniquely suited to creating systems that can better deliver drugs to tiny areas within the body. Nano-enabled drug delivery also makes it possible for drugs to permeate through cell walls, which is of critical importance to the expected growth of genetic medicine over the next few years.

Considering the applications of nanotechnology in the various fields, the next ten years will see nanotechnology playing the most dominant role in the global business environment and is expected to go beyond the billion dollar estimates and cross the figure of $1 trillion. The market share for nanotechnology products such as nanomaterials will be about $340 billion, electronics and semi conductors will be $300 billion, pharmaceutical will be around $ 180 billion and aerospace and chemical plants and tools will be around $ 200 billion. In BRICS countries, the market for nanotechnology is expected to be about $1 billion.

The governments and corporates the world over are investing a lot on nanotech R&D activities. The worldwide nanotechnology R&D investment reported by government organizations has increased approximately five times in the last five years between 1997 and 2002. At least 30 countries have initiated national activities in this field. Scientists have opened a broad net of discoveries that does not leave any major research area untouched in physical, biological, and engineering sciences. The industry has gained confidence that nanotechnology will bring competitive advantages. The worldwide annual industrial production in the nanotech sectors is estimated to exceed $1 trillion in 10-15 years from now, which would require about two million nanotechnology workers, according to MC Roco, senior advisor for nanotechnology, National Science Foundation.

The US has lead the way by allocating $800million in funds to the 2004 National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). The House of Representatives has also approved a Bill that plans to allocate $2.36 billion to nanotechnology programs over the next three years, not to mention the substantial state funding programs. Japan is next up, with almost $750millon in funding in 2002 and the European Union is assigning nanotechnology special status in the new Sixth Framework Programme.

Tim Harper, CEO, Cientifica Ltd, a London-based global nanotechnology business intelligence and strategic consulting services company, said, "About $12 billion is being pumped into R&D activities across the world on nanotechnology R&D. It includes both private and public funding."

Narayan Kulkarni

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