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Cablegate: Nanotechnology - Can It Keep Taiwan Competitive?

VZCZCXRO0876
RR RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHIN #1131/01 1410541
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 210541Z MAY 07
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5316
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 TAIPEI 001131

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/TC
COMMERCE FOR 3132/USFCS/OIO/EAP/WZARIT
COMMERCE FOR 4431/ITA/MAC/AP/OPB/TAIWAN/MCHOI
TREASURY FOR OASIA/LMOGHTADER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EIND TSPL TPHY TW
SUBJECT: NANOTECHNOLOGY - CAN IT KEEP TAIWAN COMPETITIVE?


1. (U) Summary: Taiwan initiated a six-year plan to
develop nanotechnology in 2003 with total funding of
US$555 million. The plan emphasizes identifying
industrial applications more than pure research. It aims
to assist Taiwan's successful high-tech firms as well as
firms in mature manufacturing industries identify new
applications to stay competitive. Taiwan's high-tech
firms, especially in semiconductors, already invest large
sums in advanced nanotechnology research and will
continue to successfully use the results of their
research to stay competitive. Efforts to help firms in
mature industries have been less successful so far. End
summary.

A Six-Year Plan to Develop Nanotechnology
-----------------------------------------

2. (U) In 2003, Taiwan began a six-year effort to boost
the commercial use of nanotechnology and graced it with
the inelegant title of National Science and Technology
Program for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (NSTP). Its
three major goals are academic excellence in basic
nanotechnology research, the creation of innovative
industrial applications, and the acceleration of
commercialization of nanotechnology. Taiwan's Executive
Yuan budgeted US$555 million across the plan's six years
to be administered by the National Science Council. The
nanotechnology initiative ranks high among the projects
administered by the National Science Council. Only
programs on telecommunications, genomic medicine and e-
learning have been allotted more funding.

3. (U) Measured in dollars, the Program places more
emphasis on industrialization and commercialization of
nanotechnology than on education and basic research.
Over the six-year life of the program, 63 percent of the
budget will be spent on developing industrial
applications. The vast majority of this funding is
directed to the Nanotechnology Research Center (NTRC) at
Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI).
ITRI is the quasi-governmental research facility that has
been instrumental in Taiwan's notable success in
developing the semiconductor, flat-panel display and
other high-tech industries. Education and basic
research, on the other hand, account for just 21 percent
of the program's budget. The remaining 15 percent is
dedicated to the creation of "core facilities," or
laboratories to be shared by various companies and
academic institutions. Within the budget assigned to
core facilities, approximately 60 percent is earmarked
for industrial use compared to 40 percent for academic
use.

4. (SBU) Su Tsung-tsan, the General Director of ITRI's
NTRC told us NTRC aims to help Taiwan's most advanced and
successful industries, especially semiconductor and flat-
panel display manufacturing, to develop nanotechnology
applications. At the same time, it aims to help more
mature, less technology-intensive manufacturing
industries identify nanotechnology applications that will
help keep them competitive in global markets. NTRC
focuses on nanotechnology applications in five areas:
information and communications technologies, including
semiconductor memory applications and flat-panel display
components; energy applications; nanomaterials;
biomedical applications; and nanotechnology equipment and
tools.

Progress So Far - Leaders Stay Strong,...
-----------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Taiwan's most advanced industries will continue
developing nanotechnology to stay competitive, especially
in the semiconductors field. Denny Tang, the Director of
Exploratory Research at Taiwan Semiconductor
Manufacturing Company, pointed out to us that
nanoelectronics, including semiconductors, is the only
profitable nanotechnology industry in the world. TSMC,
the world's largest contract semiconductor manufacturer,
spent over US$480 million on research and development
last year. Tang told us that TSMC receives no government
funding for nanotechnology research and development.
However, NTRC's Su explained that TSMC and NTRC cooperate

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on some research projects, such as development of
magnetoresistive random access memory (MRAM).

Older Industries Try to Keep Competitive,...
--------------------------------------------

6. (U) Taiwan has had mixed results at using
nanotechnology to help firms in more mature manufacturing
industries stay competitive. Taiwan Fluorescent Lamp
Company (TFLC) started working with the Chung-shan
Institute of Science and Technology in 1996 to develop
nanotechnology applications. In 1999, it created a
fluorescent tube with a nanomaterial coating that kills
microorganisms and reduces air odors. Later it added a
fan to the light to create an air purifier. TFLC plans
to begin marketing the air purifier in the United States
next month under its own "Nanobreeze" brand name.
Initially, it plans to ship 50,000 units.

7. (U) To assist in the marketing of nanotechnology
products to consumers in Taiwan, the NSTP established a
special "nano" mark certification. Companies can submit
their new nanotechnologies to NSTP. If NSTP verifies
that the product uses nanotechnology, the company can use
the "nano" mark and its logo to market the product. TFLC
is the only company to receive approval to use the "nano"
mark for two different products, the anti bacterial
fluorescent tube and the air purifier.

8. (SBU) However, Hank Chou, the Nanotechnology
Department Manager at TFLC, told us that his firm had
given up marketing nanotechnology products in Taiwan. He
complained that it was too difficult to convince Taiwan
consumers of the benefits of nanotechnology. Currently,
the firms nanotechnology products account for only three
to five percent of total revenue, he said. The firm as a
whole has been suffering and was recently in the news
when the Chairman and President both resigned due to
financial problems at the firm. Chou told us that TFLC
is looking for an investor to take over the company.

...and Struggling to Create New Niches
--------------------------------------

9. (SBU) When we asked NTRC's Su to suggest a company
that been successful at developing new nanotechnology
applications, she identified Novax Material and
Technology Inc. Novax had recently unveiled an emergency
escape fire hood that uses nano gold catalysts to convert
toxic carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide. Novax President
Nano Yang showed us a mock-up of the mask and told us the
firm would begin manufacturing in July. His target
customers are hotels, and the masks will sell for
approximately US$150 each. (Comment: Novax's escape fire
hood is significantly more expensive than similar
products on the market without nanotechnology. Its
appeal may also be limited because although the
nanotechnology eliminates carbon monoxide, it does not
remove other toxins from smoke. End comment.) Yang
hopes the firm can become profitable in the third quarter
of this year. Novax licensed the nano gold catalyst
technology from NTRC. The firm currently has only seven
employees with no research and development capacity of
its own.

Comment - "Nano" Results
------------------------

10. (SBU) The development of nanotechnology is a high
priority item on Taiwan's science and technology policy
agenda. However, official resources dedicated to its
development are small compared to the research and
development expenses of Taiwan's large high-tech firms.
Some of these companies are already pushing the
boundaries of nanotechnology with negligible assistance
from the Taiwan authorities; and they're earning big
profits in the process. Our discussions with other firms
suggest efforts to use nanotechnology to keep Taiwan
competitive in mature industries or develop new
manufacturing niches have had little success to date.
Taiwan is still in the early stages of encouraging
nanotechnology, and its investment could still pay
dividends in the future. But considering the focus

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placed on commercializing the technology, the results so
far are not impressive.
YOUNG

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