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Calif. additives firm sees promise in nanotechnology

By: Roger Renstrom

May 2, 2012

ORLANDO, FLA. (May 2, 2:40 p.m. ET) — Specialized polymer additive advocate Consortium Corp. of Whittier, Calif., spread the word during NPE2012 about the potential for nanotechnology.

Technical Director George Gilbert took opportunities in Orlando to “discuss some real benefits from inclusion of carbon nanotubes or nanoclay” in compounds. While not representing an exhibitor, he talked to custom and toll compounders, chemical producers, end users and others primarily at booths in the north and south halls.

“A few people are interested, but [they are] cost conscious,” Gilbert reported. “We try to be shepherds of technology working through the issues” for processors of plastics, elastomers and paints/coatings.

The advantages can outweigh the costs, especially for users of engineering or high-temperature thermoplastics, Gilbert said. “Those are areas where the benefit of technology won’t affect the cost structure that much.”

Consortium, a small business started in 2009, envisions nanoclays and carbon nanotubes exponentially replacing some current additives such as carbon black, ketchen black, carbon fiber or bulk clay.

“We are not just a distributor pushing nanotubes,” he said. “A number of people have done that and failed,” often because of insufficient consultation and work with their clients.

Among contacts in Orlando, Gilbert met with representatives of a compounder and a coupling agent manufacturer. The discussion explored the dispersion of carbon nanotubes into nylon to improve the flow characteristics of polyamides.

Apart from NPE2012, among “a few people getting close” to trials is an industrial hose and tubing manufacturer seeking benefits from including nanoclay in thermoplastic polyurethane to offset environmental changes, Gilbert said. Fuel additive “ethanol tends to eat up TPU in hotter weather.”

Aerospace companies and public transportation agencies look at the technology for the beneficial characteristics involving flame retardance, control of heat release and avoidance of toxicity.

In North America, Consortium exclusively represents the nanoclay-focused Nanocor subsidiary of Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Amcol International Corp. and the carbon nanotube technology of Nanocyl SA of Sambreville, Belgium.

In addition, Consortium works with Biosafe Inc. of Pittsburgh for its antimicrobial product line and collaborates with additive maker Enso Plastics LLC and water bottle developer Enso Bottles LLC, both of Mesa, Ariz.

Many companies looked into nanotechnology several years ago, but the economic downturn led to the liquidation or watering down of some research efforts, Gilbert said. “Now, they are on a better economic plane” and can explore “how to create value.”

Those in Europe and Asia “have been more open and done more to put the technology to work,” he said. “The U.S. is catching up.” A learning curve of about one to two years is customary.

At NPE2012, “people were talking about real projects rather than imaginary projects,” Gilbert said. “People are just starting to get their arms around this technology.”