Luxembourg-based OCSiAl says it has found a way to solve these problems for single wall carbon nanotubes. “A few years ago, the cost of single wall carbon nanotubes was $100 a gram,” says Mike Nemeth, OCSiAl’s vice president of sales and marketing. “We are now at $2 a gram.”
The price reduction is due to the company’s development of a large-volume synthesizing process. The Graphetron 1.0, its pilot facility, is currently producing one ton of nanotubes each year. With other reactors coming online, the company will be able to boost annual production to 10 tons.
“We use a continuous production method as opposed to methods used over the last decade, which were often batched. You’d have high costs of manufacturing because you’d fire up the nanotube reactors, make a couple of nanotubes and then turn them off. But we are constantly making kilograms a day of nanotubes,” he adds.
The composites industry is a good fit for nanotechnology because it is a space that values both performance and innovation, Nemeth says. Composites made with single wall carbon nanotubes can provide multifunctionality, offering strength, stiffness and conductivity.
According to OCSiAl, single wall carbon nanotubes provide high electrical conductivity with ultralow loading, which ranges from 0.01 to 0.10 percentage of the composite’s weight. Carbon nanotubes can enhance the conductivity of a variety of materials, including CFRP, SMC, BMC and other fiberglass reinforced composites. OCSiAl offers the nanotubes in whatever form the customer requires to make their adoption into the manufacturing process as seamless as possible.
Nemeth expects that the aerospace and automotive industry will become big markets for OCSiAl’s nanotube product, TUBALL™. Nanotubes could provide conductivity in auto parts while maintaining a desired color, something that carbon black additives cannot do. For aerospace, nanotube technology could enable heating applications like the de-icing of aircraft without a complex network of wires.
Although OCSiAl is now able to produce TUBALL in quantities, it will take some time for industries with long design cycles to work the carbon nanotubes into their products. “Another challenge is explaining to people that you can now consider some other opportunities that might need more than one or two grams of nanotubes, because we can give them to you not only at scale, but also at a competitive price point,” Nemeth says.