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Moscow Times
October 7, 2009
Medvedev Pitches Nanotechnology
By Alex Anishyuk

Nanotechnology will rival oil as a global powerhouse industry, so Russia’s economy needs to embrace it now to avoid a repeat of the “well-known scenario” in which growing oil prices keep it from modernizing, President Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday.

Medvedev spoke at the opening of the International Nanotechnology Forum, where one senior official said the burden to create new innovations should fall on small and midsized businesses.

Rusnano chief Anatoly Chubais, meanwhile, gave Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov a guided tour of an exhibition of new Russian nanotechnology, including a photodiode lamp that appeared to temporarily blind Ivanov.

“The economic crisis is a great impetus for an economic renewal,” Medvedev said in his speech at the Krasnaya Presnya Expocenter.

“But the main challenge,” he said, “is to avoid the well-known scenario where oil prices are on the rise and the economy is improving and, again, just like in previous years, no one needs nanotechnology because we can relax and make ends meet without innovations. We therefore must make nanotechnology one of the main sectors of the economy.”

Medvedev also said the main lesson that Russia should learn during the crisis was the need to diversify its natural resources-oriented economy.

“We should not focus our economy on natural resources, no matter how tremendous they are,” he said. “However, there haven’t been any changes so far. The crisis hit the economy, but no one wants to change anything, which of course is a sad conclusion.”

The global nanotechnology market is worth about $250 billion today and may reach $2 trillion to $3 trillion by 2015, making it comparable to the market of natural resources, Medvedev said, citing independent estimates.

Russia has a number of advantages that could make it a leader in this field, he said.

“We have a competitive scientific base, spacious domestic market and active state support,” he said.

Medvedev said a nanotechnology funding program approved by the government Monday was the largest in the world, with up to 318 billion rubles ($3.95 billion) earmarked until 2015. He said the sector’s sales in Russia would reach 900 billion rubles by that time, but he scolded the state’s management of the sector as “disorderly.”

“The role of the sector is clear and the state’s efforts are quite active, but we have failed to understand the essence of what exactly needs to be done,” he said.

The new innovations should be created by small and midsized businesses, Sergei Mazurenko, head of the Federal Science and Innovations Agency, told The Moscow Times.

“We should be more systematic in developing new high-tech production by creating medium-sized and small science-intensive businesses,” Mazurenko said. “In addition, we need extensive applied research in order to create competitive nanoproducts.”

Most small businesses in Russia nowadays are in the service sector, not high technology, he added.

Medvedev criticized private companies for being “inert” when it comes to investing in nanotechnology, saying the state’s main task was to stimulate the interest of private investors in this sector.

Medvedev said that to develop the sector, the government needed to reform the tax system, introduce “green customs corridors” for high-tech exports, and place orders for innovative products.

He stressed that qualified specialists needed to be trained to work in nanotechnology. “The demand for these specialists is roughly 100,000 to 150,000 people today,” he said. “We have a list of related professional training courses approved by the Education and Science Ministry, and if this list doesn’t give us enough capabilities, it should be changed.”

Ivanov, the deputy prime minister whose portfolio includes nanotechnology, praised the allocation of funds for state-owned Rusnano that was signed Monday by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as he was escorted by Chubais around the nanotechnology exhibition shortly before the opening of the forum.

Walking along the aisles, Ivanov and Chubais stopped to glance at various items on display. A laptop with a cover painted in nano-ink to look exactly like crocodile skin excited them both, while Chubais was notably proud to present a vertical laser emitter, one of the latest Russian innovations.

“This is a Russian development that can be used for data transmission,” Chubais told Ivanov.

The next exhibit that caught Ivanov’s attention was a photodiode lamp that shone so bright that Ivanov winced for a moment.

“Somebody, turn the lamp off. We don’t want to blind our deputy prime minister,” Chubais commanded in a joking tone. Somebody immediately unplugged the unit.

Meanwhile, Ivanov kept asking Chubais about when the various products on display would enter industrial production, and Chubais gave dates over the next several years.

Earlier, Rusnano announced that it has approved financing for 36 projects.

Mazurenko, chief of the Federal Science and Innovations Agency, touted Russian nanotechnology, noting that the Solver Next automated scanning probe microscope made by the Moscow-based NT-MDT company was selected by independent experts of R&D Magazine as one of the world’s 100 best nanotechnology achievements of the year.

“However, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to develop a successful nanotechnology sector,” he said.

The state will develop but not manage the nanotechnology sector, Chubais said at a news conference.

“I fully support the funding program that will be in force until 2015, but beginning from 2016 the state should abandon funding and private capital should seize the initiative by that time,” he said.

“I meet two to three oligarchs a week, and more than half of them have decided to redirect their funds into innovative technology,” he said.

Chubais signed an agreement with Sberbank chief German Gref on the sidelines of the forum under which the state-owned bank will provide 45 billion rubles ($1.5 billion) in loans, Chubais said.

Ivanov awarded the Russian Nanotechnology Prize, a crystal ball, to Russian academic Leonid Keldysh and U.S. professor Alfred Cho for their innovative methods of creating nanostructures.

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