Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Manchester
Unit of AssessmentChemistry
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Chemical Sciences: Macromolecular and Materials Chemistry, Physical Chemistry (incl. Structural)
Summary of the impact
Nanoco, is a University of Manchester spin out company having a current
market capitalisation of £384m (31/7/2013). Nanoco's proprietary processes
enable, for the first time, commercial quantities of high-quality quantum
dot nanoparticles, free of toxic heavy-metals, to be manufactured
economically — for incorporation into next-generation displays &
As a result of its world-leading disruptive technology,
Nanoco has, in the REF period, forged down-stream global business
partnerships that have generated around £11m revenue, creating 95 jobs
with Nanoco (at a cost of over £3m/year), substantial secondary employment
in the supply chain, and underpinning technology to enable the delivery of
more energy-efficient electronic devices.
Research conducted at the University of Manchester developed novel
processes to prepare, reproducibly, bulk quantities of high-quality
quantum dot nanoparticles from non-heavy metal precursors. [4,5]
The research was carried out by key Manchester researchers:
- Paul O'Brien — Professor of Materials Chemistry (1999-present);
- Nigel Picket — PDRA (2000-2004);
- Steve Daniels — PhD student (2001-2004).
Most often, quantum dots have been prepared by `hot-injection methods'
rapidly introducing solutions of often hazardous precursor compounds into
a vast excess of hot solvent, resulting in nucleation and subsequent
growth of the quantum dot nanoparticles by `heating-up' methodologies. The
approach can be severely limited by being non-reproducible in terms of the
stability, size and colour of the quantum dot nanoparticles produced.
The molecular seeding process developed at Manchester circumvented these
limitations. In this approach, the precursor compounds are heated in the
presence of a molecular-cluster in a single-pot reaction. The molecular
cluster serves as a prefabricated template to nucleate nanoparticle
growth, offering more accurate control over the size and associated
emission wavelength of the resulting quantum dots. 
This seeding process was then further developed at Manchester, coating
the quantum dot nanoparticles with a wide band-gap inorganic shell in
order to confine the exciton generated within the quantum dot, upon
irradiation, from the external environment. This improved both the
stability and brightness of the quantum dot nanoparticles. [1,2,6]
References to the research
All of the papers appear in peer-reviewed international journals that led
to Professor O'Brien being invited to present his research
internationally. The patents capture the underpinning research that forms
the basis of Nanoco Technologies. Professor O'Brien was made FRS in 2013
largely for his contributions to the development of the chemistry
described in this Impact Case.
1. Investigation of the internal heterostructure of highly luminescent
quantum dot-quantum well nanocrystals, Santra, P. K. Viswanatha, R.
Daniels, S. M. Pickett, N. L. Smith, J. M. O'Brien, P., Sarma, D. D., J.
Am. Chem. Soc., 2009, 131, 470-7 DOI:
2. Power law carrier dynamics in semiconductor nanocrystals at nanosecond
timescales. Sher, P. H., Smith, J. M., Dalgarno, P. A., Warburton, R. J.,
Chen, X., Dobson, P. J., Daniels, S. M., Pickett, N. L., O'Brien, P.,
Appl. Phys. Lett., 2008, 92, 101111, DOI:
3. New synthetic routes for quantum dots, Crouch, D., Norager, S.,
O'Brien, P., Park, J-H., Pickett, N. L., Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A.,
2003, 361, 297-310. DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2002.1129
6. Synthesis and characterization of CdS quantum dots in polystyrene
microbeads, Li, Y., Liu, E. C. Y., Pickett, N., Skabara, P. J., Cummins,
S. S., Ryley, S., Sutherland, A., O'Brien, P., J. Mat. Chem., 2005, 15,
Details of the impact
Despite the advantageous electroluminescent and photoluminescent
properties of quantum dot nanoparticles, their incorporation into
next-generation consumer electronics has been precluded by the absence of
a means to manufacture both sufficient quantities and materials that are
free of toxic heavy metals in-order to comply with `Restriction of
Hazardous Substances' (RoHS) legislation.
Pathways to impact
The research conducted at the University of Manchester enabled the
preparation of bulk quantities of quantum dots free of toxic heavy metals,
which led to the spinout of Nanoco Technologies in 2001-2 from the School
of Chemistry based on its proprietary technology covered, by 19 patents
Whilst located within the School of Chemistry building, Nanoco grew to
10-12 workers before moving to dedicated premises where it experienced
extraordinary growth between 2004-2013. Currently, Nanoco operates from
the company's headquarters and R&D facility in Manchester, a
production plant in Runcorn and sales offices located in Japan and the
During the period 1st January 2008 to 31st July 2013, Nanoco Technologies
established itself as the world's leading manufacturer and supplier of
commercial quantities of RoHS compliant (RoHS 2002/95/EC) quantum dots,
employing approximately 95 staff at a total cost of over £3m per year and
generating over £10.5m revenue since 1st August 2008 [B].
On the 1st May 2009 Nanoco Group plc began trading on the Alternative
Investment Market of the London Stock Exchange and since this time has
grown its market capitalisation to £384m (31/7/2013).
Nanoco's strategic partnerships have generated significant secondary
impact through job creation throughout its associated supply chain and
within its partner companies. Currently, Nanoco's quantum dot's are being
developed with its strategic partners in several areas including displays
and photovoltaic solar cells as follows:-
Display technology has progressed from bulky cathode ray tubes to plasma
screens, liquid crystal displays and more recently to energy efficient
organic light emitting diodes (OLED). OLED technology has provided low
power, lightweight, thinner displays of improved user experience through
wider viewing angles and improved contrast. However, OLED
display technology is limited to the fabrication of small displays
employing wasteful and energy inefficient evaporation procedures with a
high discard rates.
Quantum dot electroluminescent display technology (QD TV™) offers a
tremendous advantage over existing OLED-technology. Quantum dots have been
printed using facile low cost techniques into various sizes of lightweight
flexible displays. High photoluminescence quantum yields render the
displays energy efficient, narrow emission band-width provides displays of
superior optical resolution, whilst the high stability of inorganic
quantum dots provides displays with improved lifetimes.
Since 2011, Nanoco has delivered 1kg batches of both red and green
coloured quantum dots worth £2.5m and achieved performance milestones that
have generated an additional £1.1M. In January 2013 Nanoco entered into an
exclusive licensing agreement with Dow Electronic Materials' who are
opening a production facility in the far-east to manufacture quantum dots
and have exclusive worldwide rights for the sale, marketing and
manufacture of Nanoco's quantum dots for use in electronic displays [C].
2. Photovoltaic solar cells
The world's growing demand for power is met predominantly by the
combustion of fossil fuels (13TW, 87%). As fossil fuels become depleted
and the demand for cleaner, greener energy increases it is imperative that
renewable energy becomes a more significant proportion of our energy mix.
Currently, solar power contributes a negligible 0.03% toward the global
energy mix despite the earth receiving sufficient energy from the sun to
meet its current and future energy demand (>120,000 TW). The widespread
adoption of solar power has been impeded by the high cost of cells,
principally of silicon fabricated by expensive methods.
In partnership with a Japanese automotive firm that has invested
approximately £1m and `Tokyo Electron' who have invested an undisclosed
amount, Nanoco has exploited its proprietary intellectual property and
expertise to prepare a range of novel copper indium gallium diselenide and
copper indium diselenide quantum dot inks that have been fabricated into
solar cell devices of good efficiencies using conventional low cost
printing techniques [D].
Sources to corroborate the impact
A) Corroboration of Nanoco startup timeline and individual involvement.
Letter of support (CEO Nanoco)
B) Nanoco 2013 Interim Report.
C) Press Release re Dow use for LCD displays.
D) Press Release re Tokyo Electron use of solar ink