University of Queensland researchers who discovered how to use nanotechnology to make thermoplastic polyurethane stronger while retaining its flexibility are moving to test the marketability of the process in products as diverse as golf balls, wound dressings and conveyor belts.
Materials scientist Darren Martin with the Australian Institute for Bioengineering & Nanotechnology at UQ's Brisbane campus, said the patented process involves adding synthetic nanoparticles to conventional TPU to improve the material's performance drastically. The specially developed nanoparticles are so small ``tens of thousands can fit on a pin head,'' Martin said. ``You can significantly strengthen and toughen the PU without causing it to stiffen. It also retains its transparency.''
Martin said TPUs have numerous uses requiring strength and flexibility, including coatings for sports equipment such as golf balls, wheels for in-line skates, surfboard leg ropes, shoe soles, fabrics such as Lycra and Spandex, medical devices, flexible wound dressings and conveyor belts.
In the process, developed by AIBN, PU batches contain 3-4 percent nanoparticles, which he described as synthetic clay. The cost is slightly more expensive than adding pigments. he said.
AIBN's next step is to raise A$500,000 (US$483,475) for commercial trials. The work will be conducted through TenasiTech Pty. Ltd., a dedicated company owned by UQ and established by UQ's technology-transfer arm, UniQuest.
``We have been working on this process for more than seven years,'' Martin said. ``Hopefully some first-stage seed funding will allow us to start customer trials.''
Further research with TPU makers will test the ability of the materials to withstand wear and tear.
TenasiTech also will explore models to commercialize the technology. One option is to license it; another is to establish TenasiTech as the source of additive masterbatches.