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Nanotechnology: A Realistic Market Assessment

  • Published: September 2012
  • |
  • Report Code: NAN031E


  • The global market for nanotechnology was valued at nearly $20.1 billion in 2011 and should reach $20.7 billion in 2012. Total sales are expected to reach $48.9 billion in 2017 after increasing at a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.7%.
  • Nanomaterials are expected to have sales worth $15.9 billion in 2012 and $37.3 billion in 2017, a CAGR of 18.6%.
  • Nanotools should total nearly $4.8 billion in 2012 and $11.4 billion in 2017, a CAGR of 19.1%.

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Source: BCC Research

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The previous (2010) edition of this report began by noting that the hype, both positive and negative, that had surrounded nanotechnology appeared to be growing less extreme. Today, bearing that out, rosy projections of a “trillion-dollar” nanotechnology market in 10 years, or apocalyptic predictions about a “Faustian bargain” or a “Pandora’s box”[1] are heard less often.

However, while the hype may have slowed somewhat, there is still some out there.  Growing public awareness combined with the complex, diverse nature of the technologies that are commonly grouped together under the heading of nanotechnology virtually invites misunderstanding, if not actual misrepresentation. 

For example, in 2010, a respected journalist wrote a series of stories for AOL News entitled “The Nanotech Gamble: Bold Science, Big Money, Growing Risks” that faulted the U.S. government’s performance in identifying and protecting the public against alleged health hazards posed by nanotechnology.  One interviewee asked rhetorically, “How long should the public have to wait before the government takes protective action? Must the bodies stack up first?”

So stinging was the piece to the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) and the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) that the director of the NNCO felt compelled to issue a formal rebuttal.  According to the rebuttal, the author “takes an alarmist perspective,” “uses irrelevant examples” and “fails to balance the risks against the benefits of nanotechnology.”  As some observers have noted, the debate over the AOL News article (which was still simmering when this report was written) is at best a distraction from the research that needs to be done.

Business, academia, the media, all have an incentive to attempt to cash in on nanotechnology.  Various manufacturers have tacked “nano” onto their products and processes, whether or not they deal in nano-size elements, in an attempt to boost sales.  Companies that have nothing to do with nanotechnology have “nano” in their names to make them sound more technologically advanced than the competition.  Some academic researchers worry that the buzzword nano is being misused to bring in research dollars for dubious technologies and applications at the expense of legitimate research.

Hype inevitably carries with it the risk of a backlash because it can create unrealistic expectations for nanotechnology.  Then, when expectations are not met, people tend to withdraw, or worse, turn oppositional.   A blog entry on The Bespoke Investment Group’s website observed that:

“Back in the ‘good ol’ days’ of the mid-2000s, investors were riding a bull market wave and looking for ‘the next big thing.’  One of those ‘next big things’ was nanotechnology.  Ever since the collapse began in 2007, however, the nanotech craze seems all but forgotten.  We can’t remember the last time we read or watched something about nanotech. …Stocks and ETFs relating to nanotech have also lost investor interest.” 

As a result, legitimate nanotechnology products and applications are hurt along with the pseudos as funding and markets dry up.  The boom and bust provides a cautionary example of the dangers of hype, but nanotechnology has a more tangible nature because it is a set of technologies.  This report takes a realistic look at the nanotechnology field and offers a road map to the technologies and applications that are most likely to be commercialized in the next five years.


While it appears inevitable that nanotechnology will have a broad and fundamental impact on many sectors of the U.S. economy, various technical, marketing and other hurdles need to be overcome before nanotechnology fulfills this promise.  These challenges and differences of opinion regarding commercial applications are reflected in the widely diverging estimates for the U.S. and global nanotechnology markets.

These differences reflect not only different analytical methods and assumptions, but also different definitions of the nanotechnology market (e.g., whether to include decades-old technologies such as carbon black rubber reinforcers and photographic silver, or whether to base the market value on nanotechnology inputs alone, as opposed to the total value of products that nanotechnology incorporates).

Perhaps as a reflection of the difficulty of quantifying the market for nanotechnologies, some analysts downplay the commercial dimensions of the nanotechnology market, focusing instead on the supply side—that is to say, the development of new nanoscale technologies and applications.  These analysts have made valuable contributions, raising investors’ awareness of and interest in nanotechnologies.  

However, by itself, the work of these analysts does not provide sufficient information in order to guide corporate or individual investment decisions.  Investors require additional data such as the size of specific nanotechnology markets, prices and competition as well as potential regulation.


The goal of this report is to provide investors and others with information on the commercial potential of various nanotechnologies and to complement the growing body of technical information.  Specific objectives include identifying segments of the nanotechnology market with the greatest commercial potential in the near to mid-term (2012 through 2017), projecting future demand in these segments and evaluating the challenges that must be overcome for each segment to realize its potential in order to estimate the probability of successful commercialization. 


The report is especially intended for entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists, and other readers with a need to know where the nanotechnology market is headed in the next five years.  Other readers who should find the report particularly valuable include nanotechnology marketing executives and government officials associated with the National Nanotechnology Initiative and other state-level programs that promote the development of the nanotechnology industry.  The report’s findings and conclusions should also be of interest to the broader nanotechnology community.


The global market for nanotechnology applications will be addressed.  Nanotechnology applications are defined comprehensively as the creation and utilization of materials, devices and systems through the manipulation of matter at scales of less than 100 nanometers.  The study covers nanomaterials (nanoparticles, nanotubes, nanostructured materials and nanocomposites), nanotools (nanolithography tools and scanning probe microscopes) and nanodevices (nanosensors and nanoelectronics).

A pragmatic decision was made to exclude certain types of materials and devices from the report that technically fit the definition of nanotechnology.  These exceptions include carbon black nanoparticles used to reinforce tires and other rubber products; photographic silver and dye nanoparticles; and activated carbon used for water filtration.  These materials were excluded because they have been used for decades, long before the concept of nanotechnology was born, and their huge volumes (especially carbon black and activated carbon) would tend to swamp the newer nanomaterials in the analysis.

In this case of pharmaceutical applications, this report measures the value of the particles that the particle manufacturer receives. Research dollars invested into designing better particles, or better delivery approaches, are not included. The value created through clinical trial success and eventual FDA approval and entrance as a prescription drug, are not included.

Nanoscale semiconductors are also excluded from the study, although the tools used to create them are included.  Unlike carbon black and activated carbon, nanoscale semiconductors are a relatively new development.  However, they have been analyzed comprehensively elsewhere, and, like carbon black and activated carbon, would tend to overwhelm other nanotechnologies by their sheer volume in the out-years towards 2017.

The study format includes the following major elements:

  • Executive summary.
  • Definitions.
  • Milestones in the development of nanotechnology.
  • Current and potential nanotechnology applications.
  • Applications and end users with the greatest commercial potential through 2017.
  • Global nanotechnology market trends, 2011 through 2017.
  • Factors that will influence the long-term development of nanotechnology.
  • Market shares and industry structure.


Projecting the market for emerging technologies, such as most nanotechnology applications whose commercial potential has not yet been proven, is a challenging task that may help to explain why many analysts focus on supply-side technology assessments.  A multiphase approach was used in the preparation of this report to identify the nanotechnology applications with the greatest commercial potential and quantify the market for these applications, as described below.

In the first phase of the analysis, BCC Research identifies a long list of potential nanotechnology applications (including applications that are still under development) and maps them against potential end-user industries, such as information technology/electronics, biotechnology and health care.  In the second phase, BCC eliminates those nanotechnology applications that appear to have little likelihood of making it into commercial production in the next five years.  This was accomplished through a literature review and interviews with industry sources.  The result of phase two is a short list of applications and end-user industries with the greatest near- to mid-term commercial potential.

The third phase focuses on quantifying the potential broader market for each short-listed nanotechnology application and identifying the main prerequisites for commercial success.  Various methodologies and data sources were used to develop the projections, including trend-line projections, input-output analysis and estimates of future demand from industry sources.


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 numerous other BCC Research nanotechnology studies, including the predecessor to this study, Nanotechnology: A Realistic Market Assessment (NAN031D); Global Medical Markets for Nanoscale Materials and Devices (HLC058A): Nanostructured Materials for the Biomedical, Pharmaceutical and Cosmetic Markets (NAN017D); Nanostructured Materials for Energy, Catalysis and Structural Applications (NAN017E); Nanostructured Materials: Electronic/ Magnetic/Optoelectronic (NAN017F); Nanotechnology in Energy Applications (NAN044A); Advanced Ceramics and Nanoceramic Powders (NAN015E); Global Markets for Nanocomposites, Nanoparticles, Nanoclays and Nanotubes (NAN021E); Nanopatterning (NAN041A); Nanotechnology in Life Sciences Applications (NAN038A); Nanotechnology for Consumer Products (NAN037A); Nanotechnology for Photonics (NAN036B); Nanocatalysts (NAN028A); and Nanosensors (NAN035A).


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The information developed in this report is intended to be as reliable as possible at the time of publication and 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 from its use.


[1] Bill Joy, “Why the future doesn’t need us,” Wired News, April 2000.

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  Title/Chapter Name Pages Price
Nanotechnology: A Realistic Market Assessment 226 $6650
Chapter- 1: INTRODUCTION - Complimentary 5 $0
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Chapter- 2: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 2 $250
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Chapter- 4: PATENT ANALYSIS 2 $88
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Chapter- 8: COMPANY PROFILES 53 $2339
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