The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) published on March 11, 2015, its supplement to the President’s 2016 budget submitted to Congress. NNI states that the supplement serves as the NNI annual report. According to the annual report, in 2014, federal agencies invested $1.57 billion in nanotechnology-related activities. The President’s 2016 request calls for an investment of $1.50 billion, which the report states “affirm[s] the Administration’s continuing commitment to a robust U.S. nanotechnology effort.” Almost half of the budget request is focused on applied research and development (R&D) and support for the Nanotechnology Signature Initiatives (NSI), “reflecting an increased emphasis within the NNI on commercialization and technology transfer.” The NSIs are multiagency initiatives intended to focus on technology areas of national importance that may be more rapidly advanced through enhanced interagency coordination and collaboration.
The annual report provides the following highlights from the five current NSIs:
- Nanotechnology for Solar Energy Collection and Conversion: Contributing to Energy Solutions for the Future spans efforts in fundamental and applied research to improve photovoltaic and thermophotovoltaic devices and advance the development of solar fuels. These efforts include research on understanding and characterizing essential processes in photovoltaic materials and devices; low-cost conversion of solar energy to electricity through the development of organic photovoltaic solar cells; and the development of high-efficiency, flexible photovoltaics for use in solar aircraft and portable power applications. Agencies participating in this NSI also support interdisciplinary centers and provide early-stage assistance to startup companies to overcome technological barriers to commercialization.
- Sustainable Nanomanufacturing: Creating the Industries of the Future includes efforts focused on the development of robust nanomanufacturing methods for the cost-effective production of nanoscale materials and devices. These efforts include the development and scaled-up production of carbon nanotube bulk materials and their demonstration in lightweight, high-strength composites and lightweight data and power cables. Nanomanufacturing advances also include the development of nanocrystalline alloys for lightweighting vehicles and lightweight, durable ceramics for structural applications. Agencies participating in this NSI, with support from the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO), conducted two workshops in 2014 that identified key barriers to broader adoption of carbon nanotubes and cellulose nanomaterials and their commercialization.
- Nanoelectronics for 2020 and Beyond is aimed at discovering and using novel nanoscale fabrication processes and innovative concepts to produce revolutionary materials, devices, systems, and architectures to advance the field of nanoelectronics. Federal agencies participating in this NSI have provided strong support for multidisciplinary university research through two public-private research initiatives in collaboration with the semiconductor industry: the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative, co-funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Semiconductor Technology Advanced Research Network, supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. One area of rapidly growing emphasis is the development and application of novel materials for nanoelectronics. Recently initiated efforts in nanophotonics provide the potential for collaboration with other national efforts, such as the recently announced Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation.
- Nanotechnology Knowledge Infrastructure (NKI): Enabling Leadership in Sustainable Design is focused on providing a community-based, solutions-oriented knowledge infrastructure to accelerate nanotechnology discovery and innovation. Agencies participating in this NSI are building upon existing activities, such as the National Institutes of Health caNanoLab and the NSF-funded nanoHUB, to facilitate sharing of data and models, respectively, and to promote collaboration. For example, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is working in 2015 to migrate the GoodNanoGuide to nanoHUB. The GoodNanoGuide is a compilation of data on workplace exposures, experimental evidence, and modeling results on the toxic effects of various nanomaterials and other nanotechnology-related environmental, health, and safety information. Other efforts currently being pursued under this NSI include the development of high-throughput combinatorial methods to probe nanomaterial growth and processing methods, and the development of standard procedures to validate computational techniques developed to predict the properties of engineered nanomaterials.
- Nanotechnology for Sensors and Sensors for Nanotechnology: Improving and Protecting Health, Safety, and the Environment is focused on the utilization of nanotechnology to develop physical, chemical, and biological sensors that have higher sensitivity and selectivity, are more portable, and have lower power demands than conventional sensors. Another focus of this NSI is the development of sensors for the detection of nanomaterials in biological and environmental media. In 2014, agencies participating in this NSI, with support from NNCO, sponsored a workshop to identify key challenges faced by sensor developers and critical needs in standards development, testing and evaluation facilities, and manufacturing. The workshop highlighted the need for broader access to test beds for the evaluation of sensor performance and for fabrication facilities that address the gaps in transitioning from prototypes to large-scale commercial production.