The 2009 budgets for the US Environmental Protection Agency and National Nanotechnology Initiative have been released, and the numbers are interesting.  Both agencies have funds available for nano research, however note that NNI’s numbers are to help that office coordinate efforts among 26 federal agencies while EPA’s portion is only a small piece of the full pie. 

Key points from the $1.5 billion NNI budget include:

  • increased support for research on fundamental nanoscale phenomena and processes, from $481 million in 2007 to $551 million in 2009.
  • substantial ongoing growth in funding for instrumentation research, metrology and standards (from $53 million in 2007 to $82 million in 2009) and in nanomanufacturing research (from $48 million in 2007 to $62 million in 2009).
  • Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) R&D funding in 2009 ($76 million) is more than double the level of actual funding in 2005 ($35 million) – the first year this data was collected.
  • The steady growth in EHS R&D spending follows the NNI strategy of expanding the capacity to do high-quality research in this field.

Similarly, EPA’s budget also provides funding for nano research and development, and in fact addresses nano in the context of the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA): "the primary objective is to determine the physicochemical properties controlling the movement of nanomaterials through soil and aquatic ecosystems. Research questions include the identification of system parameters that alter the surface characteristics of nanomaterials through aggregation (e.g. pH effects), complexation (e.g., surface complexation by dissolved organic carbon) or changes in oxidation state (e.g., chemical- or biological-mediated electron transfer)." 

EPA’s total budget is $7.1 billion for fiscal year 2009, and nano-specific funding comes in at $14.9 million (or 0.21% of the total budget).  The funding is part of EPA Goal 4 of 5, "Communities and Ecosystems."

The fact that nanotechnology research funding is increasing is an encouraging sign, however, I’m concerned at the length of time it will take to complete the learning curve given the proportionally small amounts of federal investment into this increasingly important area.