Nano-Technologies and Substances


Nanopowders: description of the world market

Most nanopowders have been manufactured commercially for less than 10 years. Prior to this only silica, alumina, and iron oxide were produced in industrial quantities. Research institutes and universities produced small amounts of many currently available nanopowders for nanoscience applications. Despite the broad assortment of nanopowders now available, only a few are mass-produced and competitively priced. 

Prices for the most commonly produced powders

Taking the above factors into consideration, it is not surprising that powder prices differ significantly between producers. Most powder producers supply a limited range of industries; therefore, the required material properties guide processing costs and introduce a large range of possible prices for the same type of material.

Most powder producers do not issue pricelists. Since the price of a powder first depends on quantity and second on quality, consumers must first submit a price request detailing expected purchase volume and powder properties.

Diagram 1 gives the average price for a medium order of medium to high industrial-quality nanopowders. Variations in individual prices due to production methods and quality are indicated.

Diagram 1. Price per kilogram of mass-produced nanopowders

A number of specialty powders have recently become, or are soon to become, mass-produced powders. The current high of these powders (see Diagram 2) is due to a combination of high raw material costs and low production. The medium-size order for such powders may fall between 1 and 10 kg.

Diagram 2. Price per kilogram of important specialty nanopowders

Geographical location has far less effect on prices than any of the factors given in this section. The current weakness of the American dollar has temporarily made powders produced in the United States cheaper than European equivalents.

Shipment expenses account for a relatively small portion of the cost for large orders of high-quality powders.

 World Production of Nanopowders

World nanopowder production is unevenly distributed. Many countriessuch as Brazil, South Africa, Russia, and Australiaare major producers of raw materials, but do not produce significant amounts of nanoparticles. Currently only highly developed industrial countries have begun to produce commercial quantities of nanomaterials. Most nanomaterial-producing countries rely extensively on imported raw material; even though many, the United States, for example, produce enough of most to fulfill most domestic demand.

The United States is home to more than half of nanopowder-powder producers. Combined, Amercian producers make about two-thirds of overall world production. The European Union and Asia account for most of the remaining production.

Diagram 3. Location of powder producers used in this survey (Total 112 companies)

Although Diagram 3 gives the impression that the United States controls world nanopowder production, the majority of American producers are small, specialized start-ups or research institutes. A more detailed analysis of American powder producers is at the end of this section.

European producers fail to produce enough powder for domestic consumption, and production of some increasingly important specialty powders is absent or minimal. As a result, European consumers import large quantities and varieties of powders, particularly from North American producers. Asian producers are few, but large. Often specializing in just a few powders, Asian producers can supply consumers in neighboring countries, limiting the need to import European or North American powders. China and Japan have large deposits of rare earth metals, upon which the United States depends for the production of several important rare earth oxides. According to recent survey by the United States Geological Survey, China produces 74% of the worlds supply of Yttrium, Japan produces 22%. Chinas growing domestic production could endanger world supply of selected rare earths.

Type of powders produced by region

By combining the powders listed in Diagram 4, the overall distribution of regional production is found. Diagram 4 separates regional production into metal oxides, compound oxides, pure metal powders, and compounds. Production in North America and Asia is similar in profile, Asia showing a slight preference for pure metal production. Europe, by comparison, proportionally produces significantly more metal oxides.

Diagram 4. Types of powder produced by region and volume

Characteristics of nanopowder producers

Diagram 5 shows that powder producers, regardless of location, produce on average one to five kinds of nanopowder. This is particularly pronounced in Europe and to a lesser degree in Asia. A significant number of North American companies produce six to ten kinds of powders. Five North American companies produced most or all of the powders included in this study. Well over a hundred kinds of nanopowders are produced worldwide. The vast majority have limited industrial potential, such as lead telluride and holmium oxide, and are produced just one or two producers for research purposes.

Diagram 5. Number of powders produced by company per region


Diagram 6. Industries targeted by producers by region

World consumption of nanopowders

Diagram 7 illustrates how two consumer product industriesElectronics and optics and Manufacturingconsume more than 70% of world powder production. These categories overlap to some degree, since many abrasives used in Electronics and optics have widespread use in Manufacturing and vice versa. Coming in at a distance third, Energy and environmental, which includes natural resource extraction, processing, electricity generation, and waste treatment, accounts for about 8% of produced powders. Medical and cosmetics applications consume only 7% of powder production; however, applications in this area are expected to account for most nanotechnology research in ten to fifteen years. Two categoriesAerospace and Metallurgyare not lumped into Other because they account for significant consumption of several important powders.

Diagram 7. Powder consumption by industry

Type of powders consumed by region

By combining the powders listed in Diagram 7 with regional consumption given in Diagram 8, the overall distribution of regional consumption is found. Diagram 19 separates regional consumption into metal oxides, compound oxides, pure metal powders, and compounds. Consumption profiles are nearly identical for all regions.

Diagram 8. Types of powder consumed by region

Characteristics of nanopowder consumption

Powder consumers tend to be either research labs or medium to large companies. Silica and alumina have already gained acceptance by electronics producers and manufacturers of consumer goods. Antimony-tin oxide and indium-tin oxide have yet to be as universally accepted and are limited to a few large companies and research labs. As prices for nanopowders approach those of their micro and macro equivalents, more medium and small companies in every industry will adopt nanopowders.

Factors influencing nanopowder consumption

Consumption depends largely on two factors: effectiveness and price. Consumers must first be convinced that the effectiveness of using nanopowders warrants upgrading production lines, retraining employees, and finding new suppliers. Large- and medium-sized enterprises are able to experiment, whereas small companies with few production lines must be convinced the costs of implementing nanopowders are compensated for by product improvements and increased market demand.

The second factor, price, is rapidly decreasing in importance. A number of industriesparticularly electronics, optics, and medicinerely on the unique properties of nanopowders to develop new products; therefore, the sometimes substantial additional expense of preferring nanosized powders to standard, microscopic powders is an accepted production cost. For other industries, where nanopowders currently only enhance existing products, upgrading can be a considerable risk; their clients often give priority to the price, not to the properties, of the finished product. The cascading price and increasing public awareness of nanopowders have caused a large number of industrial manufacturers to introduce experimental products. Such developments are covered in greater depth in Section 1.

The current absence of standards and customs classification for nanopowder products adds uncertainty. Nanosized powders cost at least twice as much as their current microsized industrial counterparts. The additional costs imposed by a potential tariff, import tax, customs duty, or quota may reduce the attractiveness of their use. China has recently been considering protective duties on nanopowders to encourage its booming domestic industries. Since China is the primary world producer of rare earth ore, any measures could have significant effects on the availability of a number of specialty powders used in the electronics industry.

World nanopowder consumption trends

It is difficult to say whether consumption leads production or production leads consumption. Since nanopowders are processed raw materials and not finished products, nanomaterial producers rely on regular, large orders. Currently few industries have adopted nanopowders; therefore, most powder is produced on special order and only small amounts of powder are sold packaged for research and trial use. As a result data in this section is based on predictions made powder producers, assuming that in the near future, production will increase with demand.

Estimated increase in consumption by 2008

A number of powders have found immediate use. Zinc oxide is widely used to make a new generation of transparent suntan lotions. The nanosized particles are readily absorbed by the skin, eliminating the white streaks left by current lotions. Although European producers have been slow to adopt oxides in cosmetics, mentioning the yet unknown effects of nanopowders in the body, production has already begun in the United States and other regions. Limited trials have shown that nanopowder oxides penetrate the epidermis, but do not find their way into the blood stream. Tungsten-cobalt carbide is used to make wear- and scratch-resistant coatings for machine parts and tools. Antimony-tin oxide and indium-tin oxide has a promising future in the electronics industry.

Consumption rising by more than 100%

Zinc oxide

Antimony-tin oxide

Indium-tin oxide

Tungsten-cobalt carbide



Table 1. Consumption growing more than 100%

Currently leading in nanopowder consumption, silica, titania, and alumina will continue to dominate the market, increasing in consumption by 50% to 100%, as the smaller circuit becomes the new standard for the electronics industry. Select rare earth oxides and compound nanopowders will play an increasingly important role in electronics and manufacturing. The jump in aerospace orders may significantly increase the consumption of titanium metal nanopowder.

Consumption rising by 50 to 100%




Neodymium oxide

Europium oxide

Dysprosium oxide

Titanium metal

Iron metal

Barium titanate


Silicon nitride


Table 2. Consumption growing by 50% to 100%

A wide assortment of powders are expected to rise moderately in consumption. Aside from iron oxide and ceriapowders with well-known usesthese powders have been recognized as potentially useful in a several industries. Pure metal nanopowders are produced in <10 nm sizes, bringing about entirely knew material properties, some unexpected. Aluminum, for example, becomes transparent at such sizes. Metal nanopowders are highly reactive and may pose serious health risk, because they are small enough to enter the blood stream. The lack of information regarding health effects due to extending exposure and inhalation have prompted caution on the behalf of producers and consumers. Some powders, such as silver, exhibit an antimicrobial effect when released into the blood stream, promoting its use in the production of health care apparel and gauze. The effects of other powders, such as molybdenum or cobalt, are largely unknown and presumed to be mild or absent in small concentrations.  

Consumption rising by 10 to 50%

Iron oxide





Cobalt metal

Nickel metal

Zinc metal

Silver metal

Gold metal

Aluminum metal

Tungsten metal

Platinum metal

Molybdenum metal


Table 3. Consumption growing 10% to 50%

The consumption of a few powders will probably remain unchanged. The skyrocketing cost of copper seems to account for part of the stagnation in its consumption.  

Consumption remaining unchanged or falling

Copper oxide

Copper metal


Table 4. Consumption remaining unchanged or falling

Nanopowder timeline: when will what be used and what for?


Current applications are limited. Silica, titania, and alumina enable chip producers to decrease the width of circuits resulting in more compact electronics. Titanium, zinc, and iron oxides are used in cosmetics, the first two for their ability to absorb UV-radiation and the last for red pigmentation. Claysspecifically kaolin, mullite, and bentoniteare natural nanosized particles and used in a variety of applications from building materials to ceramics, as well as food additives and metallurgy. Tungsten-cobalt, tantalum, and titanium carbides increase the toughness of machine parts and drill bits. Medical uses require extensive testing; therefore, current uses are mainly limited to skin applicants.

By 2010

Short-term applications include coatings, electronics, catalysis, and environmental waste treatment. Light-weight, scratch-resistant paints, anti-fouling coatings will appear on the market within five years. Iron metal nanopowders will assist in treating waste water. The high surface area-to-volume ration of metal nanopowders will enable the production of super long-life batteries. Ceria will extent the life of diesel fuel. A wide array of nanopowders will replace platinum in catalysis, enabling high-efficiency, low-cost fuel cells. Panel and plasma displays will rely on sulfides, selenides, and tellurides based on zinc, cadmium, and lead for brighter colors, sharper resolution, extended life, and low emission.

By 2020

Improvements will continue in environmental applications; nanopowders will extensively be used in water purification and desalination. Once powders can be produced with high uniformity in size and shape, a new form of lubricants will appear. Data-storage devices will be manipulated on the molecular level. Automobile manufacturers will use zirconia, silicon nitride, and silicon carbide to produce ceramic engines. The magnetic properties of yttria will improve engine performance and enhanced MRI for hospitals. The first true medical use appearstough, bio-compatible implants based on zirconia and silicon nitride.

And beyond

After extensive testing, magnetic nanopowders will deliver drugs to specific organs. Self-assembling molecules will diagnosis diseases and assist the bodys immune system to fight infection. Nanorobots will identify and destroy cancer cells, leaving healthy cells intact. Carbon nanotubes will be inexpensively mass-produced and introduce new construction materials, changing the face of cities. Extra-small, long-life batteries embedded consumer products give birth to endless possibilities, such as bio-monitoring clothing.

Materials archive
2010 | 2008
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