Nano-Technologies and Substances


Nanopowders: the description and volumes of manufacture

Nanopowders are but one of many nanomaterials currently available. Most nanomaterialssuch as dendrimers, fullerene, nanotubes, nanolayers, nanowires, and nanoporesare produced from a limited range of raw materials. Nanopowders, on the other hand, can be made from hundreds of materials. All currently produced nanopowders fall into four groups: metal oxides, compound oxides (two or more metals), pure metal powders, and compounds. Metal oxides make up at least 80% of powder produced. Pure metal powders account for a significant and growing fraction of production. Compound oxides and compounds are available in limited quantities; however, their use is expected to grow in the long-term.

Diagram 1. Breakdown of nanopowders by type

Metal oxides

Three powders account for about 80% of total metal oxide powders.

Diagram 2. Breakdown of metal oxide production


Silicon dioxide, or silica, is the most abundantly produced nanopowder in the world, making up 40% of total world nanopowder production. Used extensively in electronics and optics, silicon dioxide also has wide applications in manufacturing, where it is used as an abrasive, paint and plastic filler, coating and primer for building materials, and a water retardant. This material is also used in medicine and cosmetics.


Titanium dioxide, also known as titania, accounts for over 8% of world nanopowder production. Although primarily used in manufacturing to produce paints, protective coatings, abrasives, and glazes, this material plays an important role in optics as a photocatalyst and anti-UV lens coating. Titanium dioxide is increasingly being used in environmental applications, such as wastewater purification, air filters, odor elimination, and protective clothing. Additional applications include construction materials, cosmetics, plastics, printing inks, glass and mirror production, and chemical warhead destruction.


Accounting for about 15% of annual world nanopowder production, aluminum oxide, or alumina, is primarily used in manufacturing for abrasive, blasting, lapping, and polishing applications, particularly in electronics and optics. Additional uses include air purification, catalysis, structural ceramics, and capacitor production.

Based on interviews and published output, Diagram 23 gives the approximate annual output of silica, titania, and alumina. Multiplying volume by average cost, the estimated value of each material is found (see Diagram 24). Taking into account the various factors influencing pricing and the increase in error due to multiplication, Diagram 24 is best used for comparing powders.

Diagram 3. Annual production of main metal oxides, tons



Diagram 10. Annual production of main metal oxides, mln USD

The remaining 21% consists largely of seven powdersiron oxide, zinc oxide, ceria, zirconia, yttria, copper oxide, and magnesia. Producers can produce an oxide from practically any metal element. Many, such as beryllium oxide, are highly toxic. Oxides are not produced from precious metals.


Diagram 5. Annual production of remaining metal oxides, tons

Diagram 6. Annual production of remaining metal oxides, mln USD

A number of important powders are produced in smaller amounts. The following powders are referenced many times in the preceding sections.

neodymium oxideNd2O3

Used exclusively in electronics and optics, neodymium oxide is used in ceramic capacitors, in phosphors for color televisions, carbon-arc electrodes, NdFeB magnets, and in vacuum deposition work. It has limited use in high-temperature glazes and glass pigments.

europium oxideEu2O3

Used almost exclusively in electronics and optics, europium oxide is used in phosphors for color televisions and X-ray screens, in vacuum deposition work, and as control rods in nuclear reactors.

dysprosium oxideDy2O3

An important oxide in the electronics and optics industry, dysprosium oxide is used to produce Dy glass, NdFeB magnets, optic magnetic memory, and halogen and metal halide lamps. It has additional applications in YIG and YAG atomic energy.

Pure metal powders

Almost every solid metal element is commercially available as a pure metal nanopowder. The industrial uses of most have yet to be fully developed. The cost of producing high purity, uniform metal powders is considerably higher than for metal oxides. Five powders lead in productioniron, aluminum, copper, nickel, and titanium.

Diagram 7. Breakdown of pure metal powder production

Diagram 8. Annual production of pure metal powders, tons

Diagram 9. Annual production of pure metal powders, mln USD

Precious metals and silicon are produced in small amounts. Their numerous applications require low concentrations; however, as the number of applications increase, world production is expected to increase.

silver metalAg

Silver metal currently has various uses in a large number of industries. It has long been used for electrical contacts and conductive pastes in the electronics sector. Its antimicrobial and antiviral effects have made silver attractive for use in cosmetics and medications, as well as in textiles, cleaning pads, dental applications, and sanitary coatings. The environmental sector has expressed interest in using silver nanoparticles in air filters and as a catalyst. 

gold metalAu

Although accounting for only a small fraction of total world annual nanopowder production, gold is widely used in various electronics applications, such as coating wire contacts, electroplating, and as an infrared shielding material. For energy and environmental uses, gold is used in chemical cells and as a catalyst. DNA tagging is but one of the many recent applications of gold in medicine.

platinum metalPt

Platinum metal is used chiefly in electronics and as a catalyst. It is an important in fuel cells, automobile components, petroleum processing, medicine, and fiberglass.


Silicon is used widely in electronics as a key ingredient of semiconductors, microchips, and solar cells. It is also important in metallurgy as a hardener in iron and aluminum alloys and a refractory additive. Additional applications include ceramics, welding rods, pyrotechnics, ordnance, cement, and abrasives.

Compounds and compound oxides

Compound oxides, such as antimony-tin oxide and indium-tin oxide, represent a small fraction of production. Unlike metal oxides and pure metal powders, few types of compound oxides are produced. The variety of compounds is larger, though highly specialized and miniscule in comparison to metal oxides and pure metal powders.

antimony-tin oxideSb2O3/SnO2

Used exclusively in electronics and optics, antimony-tin oxide, or ATO, is an important component of display panels due to its antistatic, infrared absorbance, and transparent conductivity.

indium-tin oxideIn203/Sn02

Like antimony-tin oxide, indium-tin oxide, or ITO, is a vital component of modern display panels. With various possible means of application, ITO is used chiefly to provide a conductive and transparent coating.

silicon nitrideSi3N4

Silicon nitride is commonly used in manufacturing applications, such as turbines, engine parts, machine bearings, refractories, temperature insulation materials, and heat and corrosion resistant jigs. It is also used in electronics and aerospace.

barium titanate BaTi03

Barium titanate is an industrially significant nanocompound used in electronics to produce storage devices, dielectric amplifiers, and ferroelectric ceramics. 


Nanodiamonds are used almost exclusively in manufacturing. Common applications include durable coatings for polishing and cutting tools and drill bits, as well as lubrication and abrasion-resistant coatings. When added to steel, nanodiamonds increase corrosion resistance. Semiconductor production consumes a small portion of nanodiamond production.

tungsten-cobalt carbideWC/Co

Tungsten-cobalt carbide is used extensively to increase tool durabilityin particular metalworking and mining tools.

Diagram 10. Annual production of compounds and compound oxides, tons

Diagram 11. Annual production of compounds and compound oxides, mln USD

Size of produced powders

Diagram 12. Powders sizes produced

By definition, nanoparticles must have a diameter of less than 100 nm. Nearly half of powders have diameters less than 30 nm. Nine percent of powders marketed as nano have a diameter exceeding 100 nm. Most producers offer powders within a range of diameters, generally 5100 nm. Information regarding diameter was unavailable for 21% of the more than 1400 powders included in this study; they have been excluded from Diagram 33, which shows particle diameters by material. As discussed in Section 1.1, particle size is not as important as purity and uniformity when determining price.

Diagram 13. Common particle sizes by material

 Countries leading in nanoparticle technology

The preceding sections primarily present information about nanopowder production and consumption sorted by region. The close trade relations within each region make determining production and consumption in constituent countries difficult. Table 9 gives the countries comprising each region.

North America

United States





United Kingdom










South Korea







South Africa


Table. Leading producers and consumers per region

North America

The United States accounts for the largest amount of production and consumption. Thanks to generous government support, IPOs, and high consumer interest, American producers are combining research and commercial production. Nearly every type of nanopowderand every powder included in this studyis available from at least one American producer. The United States supplies Europe, and Asia to a lesser extent, with many industrially significant powders. The National Nanotechnology Initiative has thus far been successful; production and consumption are predicted to grow at a rapidly accelerating pace.

Canada, particularly Ontario and Quebec, is home to a growing number of nanopowder producers and consumers. In addition to many leading industrial powders, a wide array of exotic rare earth oxide and pure metal powders are produced in Canada.

Both countries possess sizable deposits of the most important raw materials, except for select rare earth elements imported from China and Japan. Bilateral trade between the United States and Canada is high due to NAFTA and other trade agreements; therefore, both are best grouped together into one region: North America


The European Union, consisting of all powder-producing countries except Switzerland, was slow to adopt a framework for nanotechnological development. Several member states, such as Germany and the United Kingdom, independently drew up domestic initiatives early and now represent the driving force behind European nanopowder research, production, and consumption. The EU lacks significant deposits of raw materials. Although not currently a barrier to production, this shortage could become expensive for EU producers as major suppliers boost internal production.

In general, the farther north the country, the greater the interest in nanotechnology. Germany has many highly qualified researchers, well-funded laboratories, and enthusiastic industrial clients. German powder producers make several types of high-quality powders for biotechnology. Universities in the United Kingdom now offer advanced degree programs in nanomaterial manufacture and use. British companies offer a wide range of powders. Many British experts currently work in the United States. The Scandinavian countries have experienced a boom in public interest in every aspect of nanotechnology, encouraging nanomaterial research. A number of other European countries, including Switzerland, produce limited amounts and varieties of nanopowders.

Due to common interests, proximity, a unified initiative, and lack of trade barriers, these countries are grouped together under the category Europe.


The structure of nanomaterial research and production varies greatly between Asian countries. Korea has many producers with product lines similar to American countries. In Japan, parent companies often set up subsidiaries to produce powder for internal use. China favors building large regional factories, each with a huge production potential. The abundance of rare earth oxides in the region, even in Japan, ensures sufficient supply for future electronics applications. Despite historical discord, these three companies, plus a few small companies in Taiwan, trade extensively amongst themselves.

Due to its vast mineral wealth, extensive internal investment, large labor force, booming electronics and manufacturing sectors, and trade advantage, China is likely to become a serious player in the nanomaterials market in the near future. Chinas near monopoly of many rare earth deposits and recently imposed 12% export tax on nanopowders could spell trouble for Western suppliers and producers.


A number of other countries are dabbling in nanomaterials. Israel, Australia, and South Africa have slowly growing domestic production and consumption. India,  a major supplier of raw materials, has yet to begin large-scale research and production.

Trade between regions

Diagram 14 illustrates the difference between domestic production and consumption for each region. Surpluses and deficits equal or less than 20% are insignificant. Europe is a net importer, lacking several important powders, such as ceria. North America is a net exporter, supplying both Europe and Asia a number of key powders. Asia is a strong producer of pure metal powders.

Diagram 14.  Regional production surplus or deficit

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