I am the Director of Engineering of Foster Wheeler Energy Ltd who are major process plant contractors so my review is very much from this perspective.
Whilst it is mentioned in passing in the report perhaps the most exciting potential from our view is the scale reduction in production processes that nanotechnology might enable. This has a major potential for the capital intensity of such processes and on the energy consumption and environmental impact. In turn this would revolutionise our design engineering and construction processes.
It would seem to me therefore that one key focus should be to examine this aspect in more detail and include whatever research and analysis is identified to enable this potential to be realised first for the UK design and engineering industry. Our industry is suffering extreme cost pressure from lower cost centres and establishing a differentiator such as this would extend the lifespan of this industry in the UK.
An obvious specific area where nanotechnology will offer opportunity to enable this is in catalyst technology. The potential for highly selective and active catalysts seems huge. In this context I note that the Institute of Applied Catalysis were not at the workshop. I suggest that if they are not already engaged they would be a highly appropriate channel to obtain the input of the catalysis research and application interested parties.
The other key area where nanotechnology is anticipated by us to have the earliest impact is in the pharmaceutical industry, particularly biochemical production. I can see this in two ways. The more targeted production process and the more efficient separation process particularly for biochemically produced active ingredients.
It does seem that a strong and well funded focus is needed if the UK is to obtain maximum economic benefit from nanotechnology developments. In this context the model used by the Institute of Applied Catalysis to bring focus to catalyst research and application might be appropriate to use for nanotechnology. I note that there is an Institute of Nanotechnology but that no reference is made to it in the workshop report?
As another observation about how some countries have captured the vast majority of pharmaceutical investment in the world by the simple expedient of tax incentives for such investment (Singapore, Republic of Ireland and Puerto Rico). Perhaps we should suggest to HMG that some such incentive for research and development and investment in nanotechnology based process could be a highly geared investment!
The toxicity issue is clearly a real and a politically very important issue to manage public perception and reaction. However the clean room technology is already well established for the pharmaceutical and electronic industry.
On a light note I observe that my version of Word at least does not recognise the word Nanotechnology so perhaps we are ahead of Bill Gates for once!!
Director of Engineering, Foster Wheeler Energy Ltd