New applications of plastic composites based on multi-wall carbon nanotubes (MWNT) are finally emerging according to the cover story in the May 2007 issue of Plastics Engineering. There are three key drivers for this trend:
- New production capacity and lower cost of production (see my post of May 15, 2007)
- Expiration of important patents held by Hyperion Catalysis (for example US patent 4,663,230 issued May 1987)
- A growing number of business and technology partnerships
Two main areas of applications are sports equipment (lighter and stronger composite material) and automotive (static dissipation). Here are a few examples:
- Hockey sticks from the Finnish company Montreal Sports use Baytubes(R) in an epoxy compound. These sticks are reported to be 60 – 70% more impact resistant than carbon fiber composite sticks. According to a page on the company’s website, “Nanotechnology has made it possible to produce a more flexible shaft, which helps the handling of the puck and improves the feel for the game. The most important benefits are the improved manageability and durability“.
- Sailboat mast for the new Synergy 350 RL yacht based on the Nanosolve(R) epoxy-nanotube composite from Zyvex. According to Zyvex’s press release, it replaces a carbon-fiber reinforced fabric bonded together by epoxy.
- Zyvex’s Nanosolve(R) materials are being used in a variety of sporting goods such as bicycles, baseball bats, hockey sticks and golf clubs. According to the Plastics Engineering story, the 2006 US Open winner, Geoff Ogilvy, uses clubs containing Nanosolve(R). See a complete list of Nanosolve(R) applications here.
- Nano In branded nanocomposites from Nanoledge are used in skis called “Nano In Black” from another French company Axunn. These are reported to have better shock resistance and flexibility and are lighter than other brands. Several other applications are under development for Sports & Leisure, Automotive and Aviation sectors.
- Applications in the Automotive and Electronic industries (Reference: paper from Hyperion Catalysis)
- Fibrils from Hyperion Catalysis are used in the auto industry to dissipate electricity in fuel lines and connectors. Nylon 12 is typically used as the plastic material for these components, to which MWNT is added in low loading levels. Nylon 12 has good resistance to gasoline. Lately, the fuel lines are made of multiple co-extruded layers to comply with hydrocarbon emissions levels according to the Clean Air act.
- Thermoplastic fenders of high-heat plastic for in-line electrostatic painting in conjunction with steel panels. High conductivity in the plastic part is achieved from these carbon nanotubes.
- Front Unloading Unified Pods (FOUPS) for transporting silicon wafers from one station to the other are made from engineering plastics such as polycarbonate (PC), polyetherimide (PEI) and polyetheretherketone (PEEK) loaded with carbon nanotubes.
- There is also a strong interest in the Aerospace market for nanocomposites of carbon nanotubes. Broadly speaking, carbon nanotubes are considered for use as reinforcements in ultra-lightweight parts. In my research, I came across a presentation from the advanced materials and processing group at NASA (see Enabling Technologies for Aerospace Missions – The Case for Nanotubes). The information in this package is rather futuristic; however it is quite clear that carbon nanotubes are considered to be among the front-runners in the list of available materials. They are expected to enable “radical design changes” by permitting a combination of properties not previously available and multi-functionality for increased efficiency. Among the challenges cited before this promise becomes a reality are inconsistent quality of supply, dispersion issues and limited characterization data for nanocomposites.
There is enough momentum in the industry, and enough pull in the market, for the technology of carbon nanotubes to eventually mature into a solid, reliable platform. It is only the beginning!