GeoTech Chemical Co. LLC, a small Tallmadge firm, has jumped into the exotic world of inherently conductive polymers. One product, Catize, is currently aimed as an additive to coatings that stop steel from rusting.
An ingredient in Catize, called Ligno-Pani, will be the key to future conductive products that can be injection molded and extruded, according to officials of GeoTech and its distributor, Seegott Inc. of Streetsboro, Ohio.
Normally, plastics act as an insulator, that is, they stop the flow of electricity. But some polymers - in this case a polymer based on polyaniline - let electricity pass through.
Christopher Geer, vice president of GeoTech, noted plastics are attractive because of their light weight and ease of fabrication. ``But one of the big drawbacks is they were not conductive, like metal. Now with this new breed of plastics that are inherently conductive, it's bridging the gap between plastics and metals,'' he said.
Although inherently conductive polymers are a small, very specialized segment of the plastics industry, they are getting attention. For example, a keynote speaker at the Society of Plastics Engineer's Antec 2002 this year was Nobel Prize winner Alan G. MacDiarmid, a pioneer in the field.
GeoTech backed into conductive polymers. Steven Geer, Christopher's brother, left Goodyear Aerospace Corp. in the late 1980s and started C.L.S. Finishing Inc., a small firm doing powder coating and industrial coating. He began tinkering to find a way to develop corrosion-resistant aerospace parts and formed GeoTech in 1994.
Geer earned two U.S. patents a few years ago for a method for applying a coating that acts as cathodic protection system to protect against corrosion. Geer recently received a third U.S. patent. A fourth one is still pending.
C.L.S. was buying polyaniline from Monsanto Co. for anti-corrosion applications, but in 1998 Monsanto announced it was getting out of that business. At about the same time, Geer found out about patents held by NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a conductive polymer called Ligno-Pani. The word means lignosulfonic acid-doped polyaniline - making polyaniline by grafting polyaniline chains to lignin, which is a byproduct of the paper and pulp industry.
C.L.S. learned of Ligno-Pani through the Great Lakes Industrial Technology Center, a Cleveland technology transfer firm managed by Battelle Memorial Institute. GLITeC links industry with NASA facilities, including the Kennedy Space Center and Cleveland's NASA Glenn Research Center.
NASA had entered into a grant contract with the inventor, Tito Viswanathan of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Ark., to develop a conductive polymer for anti-static coatings for clean-room clothing in hazardous environments.
Catize represents a marriage of the NASA-held patents and Geer's patents for corrosion protection.
In December GeoTech signed a license with NASA to commercialize Ligno-Pani. Catize was introduced in May.
Today, anti-corrosion applications represent the most immediate demand for Catize, said Michael Wolfe, director of Seegott's Inherently Conductive Polymer Group. ``We immediately recognized the inherent value of Catize in protecting metals used in everything from workplace machinery to the bridges, roads, cars and tires,'' he said.
GeoTech and C.L.S. Finishing are in the same building. In the GeoTech laboratory, technicians add Catize into paints and coatings, then run tests to simulate corrosion using a salt-spray chamber, ultraviolet light and other tests.
GeoTech is working with a major polymer producer in Northeast Ohio, which is supplying Ligno-Pani under a toll manufacturing agreement.
Geer said GeoTech is the only major domestic U.S. supplier of an inherently conductive polymer.
Wolfe said GeoTech and Seegott are eager to expand Ligno-Pani beyond coating. ``Injection molded parts which require static dissipation or conductivity - that could be military or medical or electronics applications - will absolutely consider the use of Ligno-Pani, because of its performance and cost,'' Wolfe said.
Inherently conductive polymers are a new area for Seegott, a specialty chemical distributor with more than $100 million in annual sales. ``We've been around for about 30 years and this is one of the most exciting things we have going on,'' Wolfe said.