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EU targets commercial nano tech research


With nano-scale technologies poised to become a strategic platform for the development of new processes for the food and agriculture sector, the EU is starting to develop a coordinated research programme so companies can take advantage of any developments at a faster pace.

The latest annual report from the EU's Nanoforum indicates Greece, Ireland and the Netherlands are leading the way in targeting nanofoodresearch among the bloc's members.

The Nanoforum brings together existing national and regional networks, and shares information on how researchers and business can access national, EU-wide and venture capital funding to boost thetechnology within the bloc for a wide variety of uses.

In an update policy document published in June the European Commission said advances in nanotechnology would help boost the bloc's competitiveness through research and development, which has fallenfar behind the US' advances in the area.

The Commission warned that the EU must must avoid a repeat what is generally known as the European 'paradox', a weakness in transforming research into industrial development and this, in turn,into commercial results.

Nanosciences and nanotechnologies are new approaches to research and development that concern the study of phenomena and manipulation of

materials at atomic, molecular and macromolecular scales, where properties differ significantly from those at a larger scale.

According to the Nanoforum document Ireland, the Netherlands and Greece hold out signs of yielding research that could be eventually be of commercial use to the bloc's food processors.

While Ireland's investment in research and development is lower than many other EU countries the country has moved ahead in nanotechnology by focusing its resources on the sector at a very earlystage, the forum stated.

Ireland is also far ahead of many other European countries in commercializing nanotechnologies, according to the Nanoforum report. Four multinational companies are developing nanoproducts andanother 40 are in the pipeline.

"The whole technology initiative has been developed with a strategy to exploit the sector specific nanotechnologies to be utilised for the existing and developing companies' growth,"Nanoforum reported.

The Irish government launched the Nanoscale Science and Technology Initiative in 1999 with a substantial increase in funding and focusing on electronics and photonics.

Ireland keeps a centralized management on nanotech research though various departments that fund the projects. Of these departments Enterprise Ireland leads with 40 projects, followed by the IrishResearch Council for Science, Engineering and Technology and the European Union and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

The Irish Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (ICSTI) heads the whole initiative along with the Higher Education Authority. ICSTI is focusing on developing projects in information andcommunications technology, healthcare, agriculture and food, polymers and plastic, and construction.

In the area of food, one of the ICSTI's targets is to develop Irish-based production and processing technologies and systems that meet consumer demands for guaranteed food safety, assured freshnessand quality. Such technologies include ingredient technology; food microstructure, flavour and quality, minimal processing technologies, pathogen control systems, including risk analysismethodologies, high pressure technology; food irradiation; robotics and information technology.

In the Netherlands, private company TNO Quality of Life is doing nanobio research for use by the food, drugs and agrochemicals sectors. TNO is especially interested in the use of nanotechnolgy usesfor ensuring food safety.

The TNO research falls under NanoNed , a programme covering investments in experimental facilities. NanoNed includes a virtuallaboratory called

"Nanolab", made up of the existing research infrastructure for nanotechnology in Groningen (BioMade and MSC-plus at the University of Groningen), Twente (MESA+ research centre University ofTwente) and Delft (TU Delft, TNO).

Nanolab , funded with €8.5m, is explicitly meant to be also available for outside users, including researchers and companies.The programme focuses especially on supporting high tech start-ups. About €45m in additional investment will be put into the infrastructure.

NanoNed runs until 2009 and started with about €235m in the kitty, including €118m from the Dutch government.

In Greece the main actor of nanotech research is the General secretariat for Research and technology (GSRT). The centre has set its priorities for developing nanotechnolgies in renewable energysources, food and hydroculture, and a variety of other sectors. The country's Institute of Physical Chemistry is leading the way in nanobio research.

In May last year the European Commission formally adopted a policy on developing nanotechnology in the bloc. The document outlined plans to fund research while addressing any environmental, health,safety and societal concerns.

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