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Bulgaria picks IBM as partner in nanotech centre

SOFIA, May 22 (Reuters) - Bulgaria and U.S. company IBM IBM.N signed an agreement on Friday to develop nano technologies -- shrinking manufacturing to the molecular level -- in the Balkan country, as part of Bulgaria's drive to boost competitiveness.

Earlier this year, the Bulgarian government decided to set up a nanotechnology research centre with capital of 50 million levs ($35.26 million) -- the first of its kind in central and eastern Europe, it said in a statement.

Nano-scale technologies, 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, are now used in hundreds of ordinary items from car fuel lines, bed sheets, cosmetics and even sunscreens, where tiny zinc oxide particles are used to absorb dangerous UV light.

Nano technologies are fast evolving into a multi-million-dollar market around the globe, with research stretching from diamond production to use in food and health.

“IBM will play a key role in assisting Bulgaria in the development of this centre and ... will provide know-how equipment and an overall know-how to make this project successful,” said Marcelo Lema, IBM’s manager for Central and Eastern Europe.

IBM, the world’s second-largest software maker, is also a leader in nanotechnology research and holds more than 10,000 patents in the field.

The Bulgarian-based centre will focus on the research and development of nano- and micro-machines and nano materials, the government’s statement said, but did not give details.

The global economic crisis has put an end to Bulgaria’s boom years of credit growth and foreign investment mainly in real estate, construction and related financial services.

The government now wants to make the European Union newcomer attractive for the development of high technologies. (Reporting by Irina Ivanova; Editing by Rupert Winchester)