Anatoly Chubais' Column

Anatoly Chubais speaking at STS Forum Kyoto 2012

09 October 2012

Thank you ladies and gentlemen. It is an honour and a privilege to be speaking here today.

We should discuss first the major challenges for mankind and for the planet.

Yesterday on this forum there were several speakers who talked about food, water, and energy shortages and how those shortages are getting stronger and stronger because of increasing human population.

And that is definitely true.

We know that one year ago in October, the human population of the planet reached 7 billion people versus 2 billi0n at the beginning 20 century.

We know that metal consumption is almost 30 billion tons versus 0.6 at the beginning of the 20th century.[*]

We know that energy consumption is almost 20 gigatons of sample fuel versus 0.2 at the beginning of the 20th century.

The result is that the CO2 concentration now is 50% more in the atmosphere than it was at the beginning of the 19th century.

Definitely we have to pay tribute to the great people who have achieved, in this city of Kyoto, the Kyoto Protocole which is probably one of the greatest achievements to prevent a global catastrophe.

But at the same time we may ask: Does it solve the problem?

By 2025 energy consumption will increase by another 50% and the CO2 concentration by 2025 will increase by another 45%.

It means that the problem is not solved. The center point of the problem is unlimited growth of consumption versus limited resources.

What are the solutions?

Can Internet solve this problem? Can social media solve this problem? Can iphone, or ipad solve this problem?

I don’t think so. I don’t think that the whole international communication industry, the whole technology of the ICT industry can solve this problem. They are not helping us to meet this challenge, which is is getting stronger and stronger all the time.

This is a real global challenge.

If not ICT, if not internet, then what?

Let us look around. What do all the buildings consist of?

They are made of three basic materials: metal, plastic, and cement. We are so accustomed to this that we don’t feel that there is something wrong with it. Similarly, when scientists and engineers were able to increase the efficiency of diesel engines by 0.2%, that was a real change. It is not easy to do. Yet, these diesel are put in cars weighting 2000 kg for carrying 5 people of 100 kg each, or 500 kg.

Which means that the efficiency of the car with the new diesel is only 25%.

If we were able to get some materials with the most strength, it would definitely help us solve this problem.

In this building, 90% of strength is used for carrying the building itself and only 10% for carrying the rest, what was the purpose of the building.

In any bridge, 80% of strength is for carrying the bridge itself.

It means that engineers and scientists must suggest basic materials which have much more physical strength, much more mechanical stress, which may really change the world.

How it can be achieved?

In Japan in 1991, professor Iijima invented carbon nanotubes.

In 1996 an American researcher, Richard Smalley and his colleagues awarded Nobel prize for fullerene.

In 2010 two Russian professors based in London, Andrey Geim and Konstantin Novoselov won the Nobel prize for graphene.

These brand new carbon nanomaterials have absolutely unique properties. Carbon nanotubes have the strength of 20 fold of steel, they have the electrical conductivity of 1000 of copper, specific gravity 2.4 less than aluminum.

If we use them just as additives, only 3% of carbon nanotubes makes aluminum stronger than titanium.

Only 2% of carbon nanotubes can make plastic ultra-strong, and a conductor for electricity.

It means that by adding those kinds of additives and those kinds of materials to basic materials: metal, plastic and cement, we can really change the basic properties of everything that is being constructed and engineered on our planet.

Definitely, what we need here is not only megascience, which is already a big achievement, but also megabusinesses, because we are talking about industries with hundreds million tons of annual production. If we really want to meet the global challenges, we need to talk not in kilograms, but in hundreds of million tons.

This direction is not a panacea, but it is something which may address what we call the really main challenge for our planet.

My country Russia contributes to this global efforts. We have already invested millions of dollars in science and businesses in carbon nanotubes.

The major tasks are two:

  • First, to scale up technology for industrial manufacturing and
  • Second, to elaborate applications in the technology for metallurgy, chemistry and construction materials industry.

Again, it is not a panacea but I believe that this topic is not attracting as much attention as it should be.

That may be the real way to address this challenge.

Yesterday on this panel there was a wonderful expression I liked very much: ’Action without vision is a nightmare’.

It was so stimulating that I decided to develop it and transform it. And I would like to say: ’Vision without action is just entertainment’.

What we really need is action. And it is time to act.

Thank you very much.

* Anatoly Chubais’ note: it’s useful to review the records of previous talks. Sadly enough, there’s a mistake due to a last year’s presentation (at 01:08). The correct numbers are: 30 billion tons is a total amount of steel produced during 20th century while 0.6 billion tons is amount produced in 1900–1920. The yearly amount of all metals including steel and iron in 2010 was equal to 2.6 billion tons. I must apologize for this mistake.


RUSNANO was founded in March 2011 as an open joint stock company through reorganization of state corporation Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies. RUSNANO's mission is to develop the Russian nanotechnology industry through co-investment in nanotechnology projects with substantial economic potential or social benefit. The Government of the Russian Federation owns 100 percent of the shares in RUSNANO. Anatoly Chubais is CEO and chairman of the Executive Board of RUSNANO.

Work to establish nanotechnology infrastructure and training for nanotechnology specialists, formerly conducted by the Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies, has been entrusted to the Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs, a non-commercial fund also established through reorganization of the Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies.