The initiative has combined commercial and scientific resources to establish the Centre for Applied Nanotechnology (CAN) as a 'public-private partnership' that will help to develop the science of nanotechnology in general as well as specific industry applications.
The centre, which is based in Hamburg, Germany, was opened on February 15 in the presence of the head of the local chamber of commerce and Prof. Klaus-Peter Wittern, head of Research and Development at Beiersdorf, who has represented the company's interests during the development of the facility.
Prof. Wittern has assumed the chairmanship of the development association for the project, while Prof. Horst Weller, a specialist in physical chemistry from Hamburg University, has assumed the scientific administration for the project.
The CAN project involves the study and use of materials at an extremely small scale - millionths of a millimetre - and exploits the fact that some materials have different properties at this scale. One nanometer is the same as one millionth of a millimeter.
"The CAN offers us the possibility to develop on location the necessary scientific expertise for new and pioneering product technologies" said Prof. Klaus-Peter Wittern.
"By involving the economy through the development association a market and product-oriented direction of research activity is possible."
Beiersdorf already markets a number of products that include nanotechnology, including sunscreen and deodorants, and is looking to expand on its use of the technology through its investment in CAN.
For the cosmetics industry, it has proved an effective technology for both sunscreen and anti-aging products. This is because active ingredients can be developed on a nano level, increasing their ability to be absorbed by the dermal layers of the skin, and thus upping efficacy.
Hamburg's first application centre in the field of nanotechnology will render services for companies and research institutes, as well as participate in research programmes of the federal government of Germany and the European Union.
The city has pledged to contribute around €9.5 million for investment prior to 2010. Also participating significantly are Hamburg companies that, as part of a development association, possess the majority in a limited company.
"This facility is first and foremost a resource to support the general development of nanotechnology," Dr. Horst Wenck, Beiersdorf's corporate vice-president of research, told CosmeticsDesign.
"Although we already use elements of nanotechnology in some of products, it will probably be some years before our investment in CAN develops any direct applications for use in our products," Wenck added.
As well as Beiersdorf, those company's include Eppenhorf, Evotec, Hamburger Sparkasse , Medigate and Olympus Wineter & Ibe, who will jointly fund the costs of running the centre on a non-profit basis.
Germany is currently well positioned as a global player in the rapidly expanding nanotechnology field, and indeed, it is Hamburg that is emerging as a centre for the science.
Working groups and educational institutes in the city, including the Institute for Applied Physics and the Institute for Physical Chemistry have done much to further the cause.
The CAN facility will initially be run with just a very small staff, but it is expected to expand as the number of projects and funding increases through to 2010.
Beiersdorf's investment in technology forms part of a major move to tap into an area that is proving to be increasing important for the cosmetics industry.
Already leading player L'Oreal has said that it is spending a significant proportion of its €350m R&D budget on nanotechnology and all other major global players are now following suit.
This forms part of the move to develop and harbour a technology that could improve a wide spectrum of active ingredient, bringing about functionality and efficacy that until now has proved inconceivable.
The rush to corner the nanotechnology market extends to a range of industries, including those as diverse as the chemicals and automotive sectors, with experts believing that its value could increase eight-fold by 2008 to top €700m.
However, some lobby groups and scientists have expressed that the development of the technology should be carefully regulated, particularly for cosmetic and toiletry applications, where chemical changes in nanoparticles could increase the volatility of formulations.