Nanotechnology is used in a variety of products on a daily basis. It is found in applications as diverse as self-cleaning windows, high performance paints, tennis rackets, anti-aging products and sunscreen.

The Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network (NanoKTN), one of the UK's primary knowledge-based networks for micro and nanotechnologies, was set up by the Technology Strategy Board, to support the exploitation and commercialisation of micro and nanotechnologies (MNT) through:

• Promoting and facilitating knowledge exchange

• Supporting the growth of UK capabilities

• Raising awareness of nanotechnology

• Providing thought leadership and input to UK policy and strategy

The NanoKTN recognises the importance of nanotechnology in society and has divided its activities into four themes: Manufacturing & Processing, Nanometrology, Bionano & Nanomedicine and Nanomaterials. For each theme, the NanoKTN runs focus groups, which act as a three-way communication channel between industry, academia and funding authorities, and facilitate supply chain development.

Within the framework of activities carried out by the NanoKTN, nanomaterials are rapidly growing in importance within the nanotechnology sector. HiPerNano (High Performance Nanomaterials) is the NanoKTN's primary materials focus group for the engineering industries. Launched in 2008, HiPerNano focuses on developing nanomaterials and nanocoatings to meet the extreme environment challenges faced by performance engineering industries. Property improvements of interest include enhanced mechanical performance (e.g. friction, wear, impact, fatigue), physical properties (e.g. thermal conduction and insulation, electrical and magnetic) and chemical durability (e.g. corrosion, erosion, permeability). Target market sectors include transport, energy, space, defence and biomedicine. A real understanding of the true potential of nanotechnology is emerging as commercial applications underline the added value that can be achieved.

In the automotive industry, the first nano-filled nylon material was used in the 1970's and nano-filled resins are now used to manufacture large scale composite panels for production cars. Other products include a scratch resistant top-coat used on car bodies, as well as coatings for alloy wheels and polycarbonate headlight covers. Resins filled with carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have been used in high performance composites in several commercial rackets, baseball bats and ice hockey sticks.

Nanomaterials also play a major role in the ‘green energy’ revolution seeking to produce energy from renewable and low carbon footprint resources. To meet the demand for commercially exploitable nanotechnologies, the NanoKTN has launched Nano4Energy, an industry focus group created to develop supply chains for nano-enabled clean energy technologies for energy generation and conversion, storage and conservation.

The sun alone delivers as much energy in one day as the global population uses in one year. However, solar, geothermal and wind energy currently supplies only 1% of the world energy demand. Conventional photovoltaic (PV) solar panels based on crystalline silicon wafers provide a good conversion efficiency (typically ∼16%), but have the disadvantage of high manufacturing cost. Organic photovoltaic (OPVs) are alternative solar cell materials and although they are generally of lower efficiency and reduced lifetime by comparison, they do offer a potentially high-volume manufacturing route, with the benefit of much lower costs. These materials can operate at lower light levels and can be applied through techniques such as printing onto a range of substrates, opening the possibility of large area, low cost panels.

Energy storage is an area of great activity where the high surface area of nanomaterials provide instant benefit, with a stream of new materials being developed for high charge rate batteries and supercapacitors, and solid state hydrogen storage. Also of interest is the generation of hydrogen by photolysis of water and development of improved membranes for fuel cells.

As well as HiPerNano and Nano4Energy, the NanoKTN has recently set up two new focus groups, EcoNano and NanoMITE.

EcoNano was launched to focus on nanotechnology solutions to meet environmental challenges such as water purification and remediation, air purification, carbon sequestration, and clean processing. NanoMITE (Nano-structure Materials in Tissue Engineering) looks at the advances in nano-structured materials for use in tissue engineering, with a view to ensuring that the UK remains at the forefront of this technology area.

Membership of NanoKTN and the focus groups is free, and information on the UK MNT community and on the NanoKTN, can be found at or send enquiries to

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(09)70165-8