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Nanotechnology in Germany and China

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

04-27-2016 15:24 BJT

By Ralf Ostner, Chinese-English-German translator, based in Munich, Germany

Germany and China are the leading nations in nanotechnology besides the US and Japan. While Germany's nanotechnology sector has a longer history than China, China's nanotechnology industry has developed rapidly in a short time.


Nonetheless, there are differences between the two nations from funding to patenting, as well as structural distinctions.

Berlin has supported nanotechnology since the 1980s, and is a leading player in Europe in terms of funding, number of companies and research centers. Germany ranks among the top four nanotech locations worldwide, with its strengths including R&D.

The industrial base for utilizing the results of research is also in place. Public nanotechnology funding in Germany is mainly distributed through the country's network of research institutes–Fraunhofer, Max Planck, and Leibniz as well as universities.

The institutes are an effective interface between basic research and industry, that convert into applications. Funding bodies include the BMBF (Ministry for Education and Research), research foundations as DFG (German Research Society), Fraunhofer Society and Max Planck institutes, Volkswagen Foundation, and German States.

Germany is home to numerous global nanotechnology players such as BASF, Bayer, Siemens, Carl Zeiss, and Degussa.

Germany's nanotechnology industry comprises 2,000 key players: approximately 40 percent of them are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), 13 percent are large companies, 24 percent are university institutions, and 9 percent are research institutions or other organizations such as professional networks, government agencies, associations, or financial institutions, but that doesn't include start ups.

Approximately 80 percent of nanotechnology companies are SMEs and start-ups; 70 percent have been founded since 1985. German companies manufacture products in the areas of nanomaterials, nanotools, nanoanalytics, and nanotools accessories (e.g. vacuum and cleanroom technology, plasma sources, etc.).

They also manufacture nano-optimized components and systems, and provide services in consulting, contract coating, technology transfer, and commissioned analysis and research. Whereas universities hold the dominant patent applicants in China, owning 43% of all patents, in Germany 66% of all patents are owned by industry.

Patenting from research institutes stand nearly on the same level in both countries. However in China, the main part of these patents is possessed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (66% of overall 2,078 patents). In regard to the share of patents assigned by individuals, there's a much higher amount for China than for Germany.

In contrast to Chinese universities, German universities concentrate on fundamental and little on applied research. Fundamental research is generally excluded from any patent protections, hence German universities do not appear as key players.

Despite differences, nano-patenting in China and Germany focus on similar technology fields. While Germany started earlier, China's nanotechnology industry is advancing at high speed. Prior to 2000, the Chinese media gave scant mention to "nanotechnology" (nami jishu) or its potential.

Yet today, dozens of major Chinese research centers and hundreds of enterprises have engaged in nanotechnology production that has transformed into a multibillion-Yuan industry.

Nearly 90 per cent of China's nanotech research and development are concentrated in  major economic centers such as Beijing, Shenyang, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Hong Kong.

In July 2001, Shanghai Nanotech Promotion Center (SNPC) was built to focus on R&D and industrialization. (Shanghai had already started work on a $217 million Stone Nanotechnology Port in May of that year.)

The Shanghai municipal government announced it would soon open a nanotech base, uniting three, state-level research centers, several laboratories focusing on nanomaterials, and eleven additional companies specializing in commercialization of R&D products.

Beijing was also investing heavily in the new industry.

The Center for Nanotechnologies at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Beijing had opened in October, 2000. Uniting over a dozen CAS institutes and university laboratories, the center is upgrading scientific co-operation. 

The research had been undertaken by universities and research institutes until the beginning of the 1990s.

Chinese enterprises appear to lack competence with research and innovation management. Nowadays, private enterprises in China benefit from their advantages in labor-intensive production compared to other industrial countries.

They are less-interested in research and development. On the other hand, Chinese universities and research institutes have strengthened their research in the course of reform of the national research system and have intensified more in-depth in applied research.

Due to decreasing governmental sponsorships, universities have simultaneously set up science-parks and spin-offs to commercialize their research to secure research funding.

In April 2005, Chinese and German experts begun to exchange views on nanotechnology at a three-day conference held in Changsha, capital city of Hunan Province. "The gap between China and western countries in nanotechnology is not large. China is even leading in some areas," said Jiang Xiaowei, a Chinese official.

Jiang said companies from the two countries would negotiate on cooperation projects. Germany will invest in nanofertilizer technology, a field in which China is more advanced.

He Jishan of the Chinese Academy of Engineering said nanoscience can enable people to produce materials and tools on a molecular scale, which will reform information technology, materials, energy, environment, medicine and health, biology and agriculture.

More meetings have been held between German and Chinese nanotechnology experts ever since. China's nanotechnology is relatively new, but advancing and expanding rapidly, while Germany's nanotechnology started much earlier, but has not developed at such a rapid pace in recent years.

Berlin also published a "Nanotechnology Action Plan 2015" in 2011,to intensify development in cooperation with its main strategic partners - USA, EU, Japan and China.

( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.


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