The title of a study published back in 2007 was "Slovenia Created for Nanotechnology". Since then, Slovenia’s institutes and companies have made significant advances in technologies on the ultra-small scale. The developments range from new materials to new energy sources and from alternatives to antibiotics to self-assembled microlasers.
It is not a coincidence that nanotechnology lags behind many of Slovenian most advanced products. This wide and heterogeneous field has been one of the key research areas for the two major research institutions in the country for years: the Jožef Stefan Institute (IJS) and the National Institute of Chemistry (NIC). Recently a network of specialized institutes, joint projects and spin-off companies have sprung up in the wake of these research institutions.
The projects of Slovenian researchers include nanoparticles and nanofibre composites with applications in electronics, medicine, sensorics and photonics. The research consortium Namaste focuses on non-metallic inorganic nanostructures. Scientists cooperating with the consortium have developed the world’s first 3D micro laser. The laser is not produced from solid state elements, but "magically" assembles itself through chemical processes. Less exotic – yet no less important – are hard protective coatings for tools and machine parts developed by IJS.
The Nanotul company is a spin-off of the Jožef Stefan Institute. The company develops and produces nanostructures based on transition metals. The advanced materials could be used in sensors, composites, lubricants or catalysts. Another company Nanotech Plus develops self-cleaning and self-repairing coatings for boats.
The Slovenian industry is not lagging behind the progress of state-funded research organizations. Nanotesla, one of the country’s main nanotech research institutions, was founded by Kolektor – a global leader in the production of commutators (an essential part of electromotors). Two of Nanotesla’s key areas are magnets and fuel cell components.
Here are just a few examples of companies using nanotech as a basis of their future growth:
- Cinkarna Celje is one of the leading European producers of titanium dioxide. Its R&D department focuses on titanium dioxide based nanoparticles with photocatalytical and bactericide properties. These materials could be used in solar cells, long-life coatings, water purification or self-cleaning solutions, to name just a few examples.
- The printing company Cetis uses nanotech to develop special plates for high security printing used for banknotes or documents. Its unique property: "the plate enables impressions of 3D tangible elements which cannot be achieved with other graphic techniques".
- Steklarna Hrastnik, the glass foundry, possesses a new R&D centre which also focuses on nanotech. The centre develops new materials and explores the usage of nanotech in glass processes in the industry.