In October 2006, David R. Smith of Duke University and other researchers announced that they had created an “invisibility shield.” Using concentric rings of fiberglass circuit boards that had been printed with millimeter-scale metal wires and C-shaped split rings the researchers were able to divert microwaves around a metal cylinder placed at the center of the ring: the microwaves behaved as though nothing were there.
In principle, there is no reason why a similar device that cloaks an object from visible light could not be built, although such a visible-light cloak is probably a decade or more away from becoming reality. While not yet exactly the stuff of science fiction, the microwave invisibility cloak was probably the most dramatic demonstration so far of what can be achieved with metamaterials, composites made up of precisely arranged patterns of two or more distinct materials.
Metamaterials can manipulate electromagnetic radiation, including light, in ways not readily observed in nature. An example of optical metamaterials that is already a reality is photonic crystals, i.e., periodic dielectric structures that diffract light of specific wavelengths and do not allow that light to leave the structure (referred to as the “band gap”). Photonic crystals have a number of commercial applications, such as ultrabright LEDs.
Other commercial applications of metamaterials include RF metamaterial air interface solutions for high performance wireless communications networks. However, most practical applications of metamaterials technology still lie in the future, such as magnetic metamaterials for ultrasensitive MRI detectors and acoustical metamaterials for noise barriers.
STUDY GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
Metamaterials offer seemingly endless possibilities. However, intuition alone tells us that not all of these possibilities are likely to become reality. The goal of this report is to survey emerging metamaterials technologies and applications, identify those that are most likely to achieve significant commercial sales in the next 5 to 10 years, and develop quantitative estimates of potential sales.
The report’s approach is similar to that of BCC’s other recent report Global Medical Markets for Nanoscale Materials and Devices (HLC058A). Both reports generally avoid futuristic speculation about technology applications that might be possible 10 years or more into the future, focusing instead on applications that are expected make it to market by 2018.
The report’s specific objectives support this broad goal. These objectives include identifying the metamaterials with the greatest commercial potential in the 2008 to 2018 time frame, identifying market drivers and evaluating obstacles to their successful commercialization, and projecting their future sales.
This report is intended especially for marketing executives, entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists, and other readers with a need to know where the emerging metamaterials market is headed over the next 5 to 10 years. Although the report is organized around specific technologies, it is largely non-technical in nature and coverage. That is, it is concerned less with theory and jargon than with what works, how much of the latter the market is likely to purchase, and at what price.
The report has not been written specifically for scientists and technologists. However, the report’s findings concerning the market for their work, including the availability of government and corporate research funding for different technologies and applications should interest them as well.
SCOPE AND FORMAT
The report addresses the emerging global market for metamaterials, including the classes of materials listed below. The common thread uniting this diverse group of materials is that all of them are artificial materials with characteristics usually not found in nature, and owe these characteristics to their structure rather than their constituent element or elements.
- Artificial dielectrics
- Negative refraction media
- Active terahertz materials (i.e., metamaterials respond magnetically to far infrared or terahertz (THz) electromagnetic radiation
- Chiral materials
- Photonic crystals
- Superconducting metamaterials
- Extreme-parameter metamaterials (metamaterials whose internal structure has been modified on engineered on a molecular or nanoscale level to impart extraordinary strength, flexibility, or other characteristics)
- Acoustic metamaterials.
The study format includes the following major elements:
- Executive summary
- General properties of metamaterials
- Historical milestones in the development of metamaterials
- Emerging and developmental metamaterials technologies and applications that have the greatest commercial potential through 2018
- Detailed market estimates and projections for each application and material during the period 2007 to 2013
- General assessment of expected market trends in the longer term (2014 to 2018)
- Patent analysis
INFORMATION SOURCES AND METHODOLOGY
Projecting the market for emerging technologies, whose commercial potential has not yet been proven, is a challenging task. This is nowhere more true than in the metamaterials field, which may help to explain why many analysts focus on supply-side technology assessments.
However, BCC’s objective in this report is to provide not just a technology assessment but also an initial commercial assessment of the potential commercial market for metamaterials. To accomplish this objective, BCC used a multiphase approach to identify the metamaterials with the greatest commercial potential and quantify the related markets.
In the first phase of the analysis, BCC identified a long list of metamaterials technologies and applications, including those that are still under development. In the second phase, BCC eliminated those metamaterials applications that appear to have little likelihood of making it into commercial use in the next 5 to 10 years, through a literature review and interviews with industry sources. The result of phase two was a short list of metamaterials with the greatest commercial potential over the time period covered by this report.
The third phase focused on quantifying the potential market for each short-listed metamaterial, by application, and identifying the main prerequisites for commercial success. Phase three actually had two phases: 1) development of near to mid-term (2008 to 2013) projections and 2) development of longer-term (2014 to 2018) projections. The development of such long-term projections is a departure from the usual BCC report format, necessitated by the long time frame for commercialization of many of the technologies analyzed in this report. Obviously, the projections for the out-years beyond 2014 are more tentative than the projections for 2008 to 2013.
The specific assumptions and approach BCC used to develop the projections (both near/mid-term and long term) for each metamaterial and application are documented in detail under the various segments addressed. This way, readers can see how the market estimates were developed and, if they so desire, test the impact on the final numbers of changing the underlying assumptions.
One of the approaches used by BCC deserves special mention here. Particularly in the case of metamaterials applications that are still under development, BCC used the sales performance of a non-metamaterial application that has some of the same functions or shares other characteristics with the metamaterials application as a benchmark for assessing the latter’s sales potential.
Andrew McWilliams, the author of this report, is a partner in the Boston-based international technology and marketing consulting firm, 43rd Parallel, LLC. He is the author of a number of other BCC Research market opportunity reports on advanced materials technologies, including Printed Electronics: The Global Market; Nanostructured Materials: Electronic/Magnetic/ Optoelectronic; Smart and Interactive Textiles, High Performance Ceramic Coatings: Markets and Technologies; Geosynthetics: Materials, Applications, and Markets; Diamond, Diamond-Like and CBN Coatings and Coating Products; Advanced Ceramics and Nano Ceramic Powders; Nanotechnology for Photonics.