The nanotechnology buzz continues as manufacturers look for ways to commercialize it.
``Nanotechnology is like getting a whole new periodic table to work with,'' said Roger Avakian, chief technology officer with Avon Lake, Ohio-based compounder PolyOne Corp.
The technology can be used to tailor materials' performance at the molecular level, including in liquids, metals and plastics. When the Nano-App summit descended on Cleveland, the focus Oct. 19 was consumer products, and speakers provided a look at what's in store for advanced plastics.
Almost 15 years ago, consumer products giant Procter & Gamble Co. first used nanotechnology, placing nanosized particles in titanium dioxide for its Olay-brand skin care products. Today Cincinnati-based P&G devotes a separate research team to the area and is exploring its use in plastic packaging, transparent coatings and ultraviolet protection, research and development Vice President Keith Grime said in an interview at Nano-App in Cleveland.
``We think that [with nanotechnology] we can create visual effects in packaging that we weren't able to do before,'' Grime said. ``And by improving barrier and moisture properties we can extend a product's shelf life.''
Compounder PolyOne will introduce a new flame-retardant nanoproduct by mid-2006, Avakian said. The company has made nanoclay-based compounds in Dyersburg, Tenn., since 2003 and next year expects to add production at Avon Lake. Its nanocompounds - based on polyethylene, polypropylene, nylon or thermoplastic olefins - are used in consumer goods, auto parts and household appliances, among other applications. Recently, the company has worked with ``in situ'' polymerization of nanoclays with nylon 6, and the method has provided better performance at half the nanoclay loadings, Avakian said.
Other materials suppliers, like Arkema Inc. of Philadelphia and Cabot Corp. of Boston, are putting forth similar plastics-based nano efforts, as is consumer and industrial goods maker 3M Corp. of St. Paul, Minn.:
* 3M is using nanotechnology in multilayer optical films made from polyester, acrylic and polyethylene naphthalate. The films, which have hundreds of nanolayers, are being used in laptop display screens, automotive windows and elsewhere. With the technology, ``3M can do mirrors without metal in lamp structures and can do color without colorants in cell-phone casings,'' said materials lab manager Frank Armatis.
* Arkema is making strides with two new nanobased acrylic copolymers. Six grades are available for toughening a range of plastics, such as fluoropolymers and nylon 12, as well as epoxies and epoxy-based film, Arkema research scientist Sheng Hong said. The copolymers also have been used in alloys combining polyphenylene ether with nylon 6, fluoropolymers and epoxies.
* At Cabot, North America's largest supplier of carbon-black additives, researchers are using nanotechnology to create aerogels in polycarbonate and polyester lighting panels, said application development director Nirmalya Maity. The panels create diffused light in skylights and, unlike glass, can be curved. They also offer weight advantages vs. glass.
* Researchers at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University have developed ``polymer chameleons'' - fluorescent dyes that can be infused in plastics such as PE, nylon and acrylic. The dyes have built-in deformity and temperature sensors, lighting up only under certain pressure or heat readings, said Christoph Weder, a Case professor of macromolecular science. The materials are being marketed in applications from meat packaging to fishing line to toys. Toy plastic cars, for example, could change color after striking each other, then revert to their original color, Weder said.
Funding for such projects has to come from somewhere, and that's where people like Mark Brandt come in. Brandt is a financial services veteran who in 2003 helped launch the Maple Fund, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm investing in early-stage nanotechnology. The fund already has helped several firms get off the ground, including Nanofluidics Inc. of Menlo Park, Calif., and Nanofilm Ltd. of Valley View, Ohio. And Maple Fund is looking to add more.
``We need strong end-use validation to make an investment,'' said Brandt. ``And we get that when we see that firms like Procter & Gamble, 3M and DuPont are involved.''
The full Nano-App Summit ran Oct. 17-19 and was hosted by ASM International of Materials Park, Ohio, and Cleveland-based Nano-Network.