Joined: 16 Mar 2004
|Posted: Thu Oct 19, 2006 11:04 am Post subject: Companies will have to wait years for nanotech's benefits
|Most companies will have to wait years for nanotech's benefits
by Sean Roach
Most nanotechnology in the food industry is at zero commercial activity and will be limited to high-value products over the next few years, says the first detailed report on the technology’s future in the food industry.
The UK research group Cientifica publishes a nanotechnology report that attempts to fully understand the scope, integration and applications of nanotechnology in the food industry over the next ten years.
While the introduction of nanotechnology will undoubtedly change the food industry, producers and suppliers have little knowledge of when these applications will be commercially available and if they will be cost effective for their products. This is the first detailed report to assess these concerns by studying nano-applications that are currently on the market.
The report states that there are some uses of nanotech in food processing at the moment, but this is limited to the use of nanoclays in food packaging and the development of improved nutraceuticals.
Cientifica estimates that there has been $17bn (€13.2bn)worth of public nanotechnology funding, which has largely gone to nano-material sciences. However, the food industry is experiencing a trickle-down effect of that research which could be fully implemented over the next six years.
The most promising application of nanotechnology will be in active packaging. These are packaging materials that interact with the products they contain to preserve or enhance quality. Cientifica estimates that active packaging will be a $2.7bn (€2.1bn) market by 2012. However, these nanotech solutions will only account for a meagre percentage of the $402bn (€312bn) world packaging market.
While active packaging is promising to improve the safety and quality of products, the price-tag will significantly hinder its integration into the world market. Cientifica believes that these advanced packaging solutions will only be viable for high-value products such as caviar in the near future. Producers of packaging for common products such as milk and meat will not find the benefits of nanotech packaging to be cost effective.
Cientifica singled out four additional areas that will see commercial implementation in the next six years. This includes smart packaging that reacts to the environment, food safety nano-devices that will detect harmful contaminates, methods to change raw food ingredients into consumable products and additives that will be added to a final product to enhance its quality.
These applications will create a $5.8bn (€4.5bn) market by 2012, with active packaging and food safety showing the highest growth potential. Nano-additives will be the smallest contributor to the overall market largely due to the safety concerns regarding these materials, states Cientifica.
The development of these materials are being spearheaded by the big players in the food industry who are looking to use nanotechnology to engineer, process and package food. Among the biggest companies with research and development agendas are Altria, Nestle, Kraft, Heinz and Unilever, as well as smaller nanotech start-ups. Cientifica has found over 150 applications in the food industry at present and states that the amount of companies applying nanotechnology to food to be in the area of 400. It is impossible to gauge the full-scale integration into the market as many companies regard their nanotech projects as sensitive.
These companies will be the main the drivers responsible for the eventual integration of nanotechnology into the broader market as the technology becomes more widespread and cost-effective, said Cientifica's CEO Tim Harper.
"While there is so little on the supermarket shelf that you can buy today, a quick glance at the ingredients list on any processed food will show you the impact that chemistry has already had on the food industry,” said Harper. “In every market, from textiles to plastics, where chemistry goes, nanotech is never far behind, leading to rapid adoption and high growth opportunities."
The report is the first to give current markets for nanotechnology-enabled food products based on available products and market pull. Previous estimates relied on the number of patents filed and the amount of research going on in the field.
The 80-odd-page report is now available and will be a major cornerstone for the upcoming Nano4food conference that takes place in October.
This story was first posted on 22nd August 2006.