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Nano-scale particles continue to fascinate

Many plastics processors are as yet unfamiliar with nanoparticle-sized additives and fillers, but that may soon change as suppliers rapidly ramp up capacity for these in anticipation of continued strong demand, primarily at first in the electrics/electronics industry, but also in sporting goods and other markets. 

Many plastics processors are as yet unfamiliar with nanoparticle-sized additives and fillers, but that may soon change as suppliers rapidly ramp up capacity for these in anticipation of continued strong demand, primarily at first in the electrics/electronics industry, but also in sporting goods and other markets. 

For instance, carbon nanotube manufacturer Nanocyl (Sambreville, Belgium) will collaborate with distributor NRC - Nordmann, Rassmann GmbH to promote its NC 7000 multiwall carbon nanotubes (CNT) and Plasticyl thermoplastic concentrates in Germany's automotive market. The agreement calls for NRC to serve as an extension of Nanocyl's business development team, supporting Dieter Nienhaus, Nanocyl's key account senior manager for Germany. Nanocyl, which has a division in the U.S. and is opening an operation in Korea, notes that the Asia-Pacific market for its nanotubes is covered through a network of partners in South Korea, Japan, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and China. NRC acts as distributor for a range of natural and chemical raw materials, additives, and chemical specialties, with subsidiaries representing globally active raw material producers in Germany, Austria, Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Scandinavia, Switzerland, and Portugal.

Nanocyl's NC 7000 series of multiwall CNTs is produced in multi-tons via chemical vapor deposition (CVD). The company claims that the use of exclusive catalysts during production makes these the most electrically conductive carbon nanotubes available. The company's Plasticyl range of CNT thermoplastic concentrates is used for applications requiring electrical conductivity or protection from electrostatic discharge (ESD). These concentrates, which typically contain 15%-20% CNTs, are available in polycarbonate, polypropylene, polyamide, polyethylene terephthalate, high-density polyethylene, and polyoxymethylene.

At the JEC Composites show last March in Paris, Nanocyl launched its newest CNT technologies—SiziCyl and PregCyl—with SiziCyl targeting infusion and resin transfer molding and PregCyl used as a range of pre-preg materials.

Nanocyl competes with large multinationals like Toray and Bayer MaterialScience in the burgeoning nanotube/nanocomposite field. Toray, like Nanocyl, offers a line of nanocomposites, although its is a highly integrated alloy of two polymers. Last June CNano (Santa Clara, CA) commissioned a 500-ton/year CNT production plant in China. According to Nanotube-Suppliers.com, there are more than 40 suppliers of carbon nanotubes globally, including the various forms they come in: single-, double-, multi-walled, etc.  China has four suppliers, but the vast majority, 27, are located in the U.S.

Bayer in 2008 announced an agreement with Clariant to supply it industrial quantities of Baytubes, Bayer's name for its CNTs, for the manufacture and development of thermoplastic compounds and masterbatches. More recently, this year Bayer MaterialScience opened a CNT pilot facility in Leverkusen, Germany, its headquarters location, boasting annual capacity of 200 tonnes. The company has invested €22 million in the new line.

Bayer officials said current forecasts assign a 25% annual demand growth rate to CNTs, with the market expected to be worth $2 billion within 10 years.

Bayer has been operating a pilot facility with an annual capacity of 60 tonnes since 2007. The CNTs are manufactured from ethylene in a reactor at an elevated temperature using a catalytic process. The tiny structures can be added to polymer matrices or metal systems as a filler or modifier to improve mechanical strength and impart electrical properties. Beyond coatings, potential applications for CNTs in plastics include rotor blades for wind turbines and sports equipment such as skis, hockey sticks, and surfboards.

According to a study from The Freedonia Group, global demand for nanotubes was expected to expand rapidly from a small base to more than $200 million in 2009. Flat panel displays for computers and televisions were to be the first widely commercialized applications, and the U.S. will remain the largest national market, with Japan second. Up-to-date production data are difficult to come by, but according to a 2002 report from Fuji-Keizai USA Inc., global CNT production capacity at that time was only 2.5 tonnes/day. By 2005, the researchers felt the market would expand in three years from $12 million to $700 million in 2005. —[email protected]

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