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 there was nothing 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 years away from becoming a reality. While not yet exactly the stuff of science fiction, the invisibility cloak is probably the most dramatic demonstration so far of what can be achieved with metamaterials, which are composites made up of precisely arranged patterns of two or more distinct materials.
Metamaterials can manipulate electro-magnetic radiation (e.g., light) in ways not readily observed in nature. Photonic crystals, which are periodic dielectric structures that diffract light of specific wavelengths and do not allow that light to leave the structure (i.e. the band gap), present a current example of optical metamaterials. Photonic crystals have a number of commercial applications, such as in ultrabright light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
Other commercial applications of metamaterials include radio frequency (RF) metamaterial air interface solutions for high-performance wireless communications networks. Most practical applications of metamaterials technology, however, still lie in the future, such as magnetic metamaterials for ultrasensitive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) detectors and acoustical metamaterials for noise barriers.
STUDY GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
Metamaterials offer seemingly endless possibilities, but it is unlikely that all of these possibilities will become reality. The goal of this report, which is an update of an earlier BCC Research report published in 2008, 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 generally avoids futuristic speculation concerning technology applications that might be possible 10 years or further into the future and instead focuses on applications that are expected make it to market by 2021.
The report’s specific objectives, which include identifying the metamaterials with the greatest commercial potential in the 2012 to 2021 time frame, identifying market drivers and evaluating obstacles to their successful commercialization, and projecting their future sales, support this broad goal.
This report is intended specifically for marketing executives, entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists, and other readers who need to know where the emerging metamaterials market is headed over the next 5 to 10 years. The information is organized around specific technologies, but it is largely non-technical in nature and coverage. Therefore, it is less concerned with theory and jargon, and more concerned with products that work, the amount of a particular product the market is likely to purchase, and the price consumers are willing to pay.
The report has not been written specifically for scientists and technologists, but its findings concerning the market for their work, including the availability of government and corporate research funding for different technologies and applications, should be of interest to them as well.
SCOPE AND FORMAT
This report addresses the emerging global market for metamaterials, including the following classes. The common thread uniting this diverse group of materials is that they are all artificial materials with characteristics usually not found in nature, and they owe these characteristics to their structure rather than to their constituent element or elements.
- Artificial dielectrics
- Negative refraction media
- Active terahertz (THz) materials (i.e., metamaterials that respond magnetically to far-infrared or THz electromagnetic radiation)
- Chiral materials
- Photonic crystals
- Superconducting metamaterials
- Extreme-parameter metamaterials (i.e., metamaterials whose internal structure has been modified or 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 demonstrate the greatest commercial potential through 2021
- Detailed market estimates and projections for each application and material during the period from 2011 to 2016
- General assessment of expected market trends in the longer term (i.e., 2016–2021)
- 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 most true in the metamaterials field, which may help to explain why many analysts focus on supply-side technology assessments.
BCC’s objective in this report is to provide not just a technology assessment, but also an initial commercial assessment of the potential market for metamaterials. To accomplish this objective, BCC used a multiphase approach to identify the metamaterials with the greatest commercial potential and then quantified 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 used a literature review and interviews with industry sources to eliminate those metamaterials applications that appear to have little likelihood of making it into commercial use in the next 5 to 10 years. This second-phase research resulted in 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. This phase actually had two sub-phases: 1) development of near- to mid-term (2011 to 2016) projections, and 2) development of longer-term (2017 to 2021) projections. The development of such long-term projections is a departure from the usual BCC report format, but this is necessary due to the long time frame for commercialization of many of the technologies analyzed in this report. Obviously, the projections for the years beyond 2016 are more tentative than those for 2011 to 2016.
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 may 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 BCC’s specific approaches deserves special mention here. 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. This is especially relevant for metamaterials applications currently under development.
Andrew McWilliams is a partner at 43rd Parallel, LLC, a Boston-based international technology and marketing consulting firm. He is the author of a number of other BCC Research market opportunity reports on advanced materials technologies, including the previous edition of this report. Other reports by Mr. McWilliams include IFT066A Printed Electronics: The Global Market; NAN017F Nanostructured Materials: Electronic/Magnetic/Optoelectronic; AVM050B Smart and Interactive Textiles; AVM015E High Performance Ceramic Coatings: Markets and Technologies; AVM064A Geosynthetics: Materials, Applications and Markets; AVM025G Diamond, Diamond-like and CBN Films and Coating Products; NAN015F Advanced Ceramics and Nanoceramic Powders; NAN036A Nanotechnology for Photonics; AVM075A Graphene: Technologies, Applications, and Markets; AVM066B: Superconductors: Technologies and Global Markets; and AVM038D Advanced Structural Carbon Products: Fibers, Foams, and Composites.
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The information developed in this report is intended to be as reliable as possible at the time of publication and is of a professional nature. This information does not constitute managerial, legal, or accounting advice, nor should it serve as a corporate policy guide, laboratory manual, or an endorsement of any product, as much of the information is speculative in nature. The author assumes no responsibility for any loss or damage that might result from reliance on the reported information or its use.