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Critical Materials in Global Nanotechnology Markets

  • January 2014
  • -
  • BCC Research
  • -
  • 143 pages


Table of Contents


A raw material is labeled “critical” when the risks of a supply shortage and the resulting impacts on the economy are higher than those of other raw materials. Basic availability is not the only factor affecting a critical material’s overall supply risk. Other factors include political or regulatory risks in countries that are major producers of critical materials, lack of diversity in producers, and demand from competing technologies.


The United States and other advanced economies depend on the continued availability of various critical materials to ensure their economic prosperity and in some cases their national security. Strategies for ensuring the continued availability of these critical materials include stockpiling, developing new domestic supplies or substitution.
Critical materials potentially affect the nanotechnology market in at least three ways:
• Some nanotechnology applications may become less attractive because they use materials in short supply, at risk of shortage or subject to price increases.
• Other nanotechnologies may become more attractive because they use smaller quantities of critical materials than macroscale applications or use no critical materials at all.
• It may be possible to nanoengineer certain noncritical materials so they become replacements for critical materials.


The overall goal of this report is to analyze the interrelationships between critical materials and nanotechnology. Specific objectives include:
• Identifying current nanotechnology applications of critical materials, whose economics or even feasibility are negatively affected by potential shortages of those materials.
• Identifying nanotechnology applications that can help to alleviate or avoid shortages of critical materials.
• Analyzing and quantifying the resulting impacts on the nanotechnology market.


The report is intended for entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists and other readers concerned with future trends in the nanotechnology market. Other readers who should find the report particularly valuable include executives of companies that are consumers of critical materials and officials of government agencies concerned with ensuring the continued supply of these materials. In the United States, these agencies include the Departments of Defense, Energy and Homeland Security, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Trade Representative. The report’s findings and conclusions should also be of interest to the broader nanotechnology community.


“Critical materials” is a relative term. The list of critical materials varies among countries and industries, depending on their specific circumstances. In selecting the materials to be covered in this report, BCC Research drew from a number of sources, including reports published by the U.S. Department of Energy, the European Union, the British Geological Survey and the German Institut für Zukunftstudien und Technologie-bewertung.
Not all of the critical materials identified in these reports have implications for the nanotechnology market. This study focuses on those critical materials that have potential nanotechnology applications or for which nanotechnology-based substitutes exist:
• Antimony.
• Barium.
• Gallium.
• Indium.
• Magnesium.
• Niobium
• Platinum group metals (PGMs).
• Rare earths (e.g., yttrium, dysprosium, erbium, terbium, thulium, scandium).
• Rhenium.
• Tantalum.
• Tellurium.
• Tungsten.

For each of these materials, the report contains an assessment of:
• Critical material supply/demand situation, price trends and risk of disruption.
• Applications in which nanotechnology can contribute to reducing/avoiding consumption of critical materials.
• Technology assessment/market leaders.
• Impact on the market for various nanotechnologies.


BCC Research performed a two-stage analysis in the preparation of this report. At least 40 raw or semimanufactured materials are designated as “critical materials” by various sources. Not all of them are equally critical, that is, vulnerable to highly disruptive supply interruptions, and not all of them offer equal opportunities for enhancing supply security through the application of nanotechnology.
BCC Research, therefore, started by performing a preliminary analysis, in which it compiled as comprehensive as possible a list of critical materials then ranked them according to their economic importance and supply risk to identify the “most critical” materials. BCC Research then identified those “most critical” materials for which nanotechnology-based substitutes or enhancement are available or in advanced development. The resulting list of critical materials forms the basis for this report.
In the second, detailed phase of the report preparation, BCC Research analyzed the potential impact of nanotechnology on demand for and supply of the selected critical materials, and related impacts on the demand for the nanotechnologies themselves. The assumptions and methodologies used in making these projections are described in detail in the report.
All financial and economic projections are in 2012 U.S. dollars.


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 Nanotechnology: A Realistic Market Assessment (NAN031E); 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(NAN044B); Advanced Ceramics and Nanoceramic Powders (NAN015F); 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: Global Markets (NAN036B); Nanocatalysts (NAN028A); Nanosensors (NAN035A); and Graphene: Technologies, Applications and Markets (AVM075C).


The market for existing nanotechnology applications of critical materials was worth nearly $6.5 billion in 2012. This market is expected to reach nearly $6.9 billion in 2013 and nearly $9.4 billion in 2018, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.5% for the five-year period, 2013 to 2018.
This report provides:
• A market overview of the critical materials used in global nanotechnology industries.
• Analyses of global market trends, with data from 2012, estimates for 2013, and projections of CAGRs for the period 2013 and 2018.
• Coverage of those critical materials whose shortages can be alleviated or avoided through the application of various nanotechnologies.
• Quantification of the potential reductions in critical materials consumption and the net economic cost to achieve them.
• Comprehensive company profiles of major players in the industries covered.

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