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Bayer MaterialSience announced today that is exiting the carbon nanotube business, an area where it once described itself as the industry leader.

May 8, 2013

2 Min Read
Bayer MaterialScience exits carbon nanotube business

In a press conference four years ago, Dr. Wolfgang Plischke, the member of the Bayer AG Board of Management responsible for innovation, technology and the environment, made these comments: "We are investing in a key technology of the future that will open up a broad range of new applications for us. We intend to utilize this opportunity to the full." The company announced plans to invest more than $100 million in the technology, and opened a pilot plant in Leverkusen, Germany, giving it a total capacity of 260 metric tons.

Bayer's capacity was soon surpassed by a Chinese competitor, CNano Technology, which has a capacity of 500 metric tons. Number 2 is Belgian company Nanocyl with 460 metric tons. Japan's Showa Denko has 400 metric tons.

One long-time industry observer told Plastics Today that the move by Bayer MaterialScience is not believed to be reflective of a loss of confidence in the overall carbon nanotube industry, but rather in the company's own technical position.

Bayer has a long history of technical innovation and wants to be the technical leader. According to the observer (who did not wanted to be quoted by name), BMS did not appear to have the industry-leading technical position in carbon nanotubes.

He also said that smaller companies can be more flexible and reactive in highly innovative markets than a global giant like Bayer.

There's no question, though, that the bloom is somewhat off the rose in the carbon nanotube business. The pace of expansion has slowed dramatically in the last three years since a gold rush kind of atmosphere in 2008 to 2010. The slowdown in the world economy certainly has had something to do with that, but possibly there has also been a slowdown in expectation--at least to a degree-for carbon nanotubes.

For the record, here are the comments made today  by Patrick Thomas, CEO of Bayer MaterialScience:

"We remain convinced that carbon nanotubes have huge potential. It has been found, however, that the potential areas of application that once seemed promising from a technical standpoint are currently either very fragmented or have few overlaps with the company's core products and their application spectrum. For Bayer MaterialScience, groundbreaking applications for the mass market relating to our own portfolio and therefore comprehensive commercialization are not likely in the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, this know-how provides an important basis for a possible later use of CNT, for example in the optimization of lithium ion batteries. We are currently in contact with potential interested parties regarding the specific application of the know-how generated."

A carbon nanotube is a tube-shaped material with a diameter measuring on the nanometer scale. Key applications are considered to be lithium-ion batteries, conductive plastics and structural composites.

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