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Nanotechnology: Bayer starts work on world’s largest carbon nanotube plant

UPDATED—Bayer MaterialScience (BMS; Leverkusen, Germany) is expanding the commercial production of carbon nanotubes (CNT) it began in 2005, initiating construction on a €22 million plant in Leverkusen, which will have annual capacity of 200 tons (video here). Although that number seems small in the scale of most chemical and plastics production sites, BMS says its Innovationsallianz CNT consortium will represent the largest CNT plant in the world.

UPDATED—Bayer MaterialScience (BMS; Leverkusen, Germany) is expanding the commercial production of carbon nanotubes (CNT) it began in 2005, initiating construction on a €22 million plant in Leverkusen, which will have annual capacity of 200 tons (video here). Although that number seems small in the scale of most chemical and plastics production sites, BMS says its Innovationsallianz CNT consortium will represent the largest CNT plant in the world.



Dr. Wolfgang Plischke, the Board member responsible for research, and Thomas Rachel, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), with a model and a sample of carbon nanotubes.

BMS’s Katharina Jansen told MPW that the goal is for the facility to be finished by this summer, with production continuing at the company’s original pilot plant in Laufenberg, Germany, which has a capacity of 60 tons/yr. BMS is bullish on CNT’s future, citing forecasts that the global market for CNTs, which BMS markets as Baytubes, will grow by 25%/yr, with annual sales in 10 years expected to reach $2 billion.

The high cost of CNTs has partially restricted their broader adoption, with that cost structure supported by the lack of production scale—a scenario which could change with the new capacity. “It is fair to expect decreasing price levels for multi-wall-nanotubes as capacities and their utilization increases,” Jansen said, adding BMS cannot supply detailed figures. Jansen did say that today’s prices allow industrial applications and therefore meet current market requirements.

The Innovationsallianz CNT “Innovation Alliance” is supported by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) and has more than 70 industry and science partners. Innovationsallianz CNT will invest a total of €80 million in research and development, with half that figure coming from the German government’s BMBF. Germany has created ambitious goals to reduce energy consumption, and it believes CNTs can help it achieve those targets by its self-imposed 2020 deadline.

Utilizing a proprietary catalytic process that’s housed in a reactor with elevated temperatures, BMS derives carbon nanotubes from a carbon-hydrogen gas mixture, according to Jansen. 

Commercially, Baytubes, which exhibit outstanding mechanical properties as well as thermal and electrical conductivity, have been added in small amounts to rotor blades for wind turbines, lightweight transport containers, and sports equipment. The combination of strength and conductivity is viewed as a means to improve battery technologies while reducing weight in a variety of products.—[email protected] 

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