Nanotechnology and the European Union

The EU’s latest funding programme for scientific research and technological development – the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) – was launched in January of this year. Out of a total pot of €50.5bn, EU member states have through FP7 earmarked some €3.5bn for funding nanotechnology-related research over the six year duration of the programme.

Renzo Tomellini

We speak here with Renzo Tomellini, head of the Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies unit in the European Commission’s research directorate. The views expressed by Tomellini are personal, and do not necessarily represent those of the European Commission.

Why is the Commission involved in basic nanoscience and technology research, and not restricting its interest to health and environmental impacts, risk assessment, oversight and regulation?

“Article 163 of the EU Treaty states that ‘The Community shall have the objective of strengthening the scientific and technological bases of Community industry and encouraging it to become more competitive at international level, while promoting all the research activities deemed necessary by virtue of other Chapters of this Treaty’. Also, but not only, as nanotechnology is a rapidly expanding, interdisciplinary field of research with many important applications, it makes sense to fund it at European level, as well as at member state level. The Commission’s total funding for nanotechnology accounts for around a third of the total public funding in Europe (2004–06 figures).”

Of the €3.5bn earmarked for the NMP theme, how much is intended for basic research into materials and production, and how much for health and environmental impacts, and risk assessment?

“In order to guarantee that only scientifically and technically excellent projects are financed, the FP7 NMP themes adopted a bottom-up approach in the allocation of funds, within the frame of determined calls for proposals. This makes it impossible to say precisely, a-priori, how much is earmarked for each specific topic. It is, moreover, important to make clear that nanotechnology research is relevant to, and will be funded by, not only the dedicated parts of the NMP theme, but also several other themes, such as Health, and, of course, by the bottom-up programme par excellence – the European Research Council.”

What is the EC doing about fostering public-private cooperation in nanotechnology research and development?

“EC funding has also a strategic relevance. Without neglecting fundamental research, FP7 NMP aims for research that can lead to useful applications and is relevant to the needs of industry, as per Article 163 mentioned above. You find this in the three criteria adopted to evaluate research proposals: quality, impact and usefulness. Moreover, there are many measures in place to increase industrial participation in projects, including SMEs, and undertake complementary initiatives, such as the collaboration with the European Patent Office, or the introduction of a guarantee fund.”

The UK government’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has implemented a voluntary reporting programme for engineered nanomaterials, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States is developing a similar programme. What can or should happen on a pan-European level, and is the EU working together with the US and others on this?

“We have excellent contacts with both DEFRA and EPA on these matters. At the European level, the Commission is carefully examining both the safety aspects of nanotechnology, and the adequacy of existing legislation with regard to any risks to consumers, workers and the environment. To date, the relevant existing legislation is in principle adequate for dealing with such risks for marketed products, but much more research is needed to close knowledge gaps and implement the legislation.”

Renzo Tomellini

Renzo Tomellini is the head of the Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies unit in the European Commission’s research directorate, and coordinator for the Commission’s Interservice Group for Nanosciences and Technologies. After graduating in 1986 from the University of Rome, Tomellini worked as a research chemist before joining the staff of the European Commission, and has some 50 scientific publications and four patents to his name.

Further reading

Cordis Nanotechnology

Cordis FP7

Article first published in Nanomaterials News.