The main value proposition for transportation customers is lightweighting. NanoXplore maintains the same fiber loading levels in the SMC as it previously had and adds graphene to further improve the mechanical properties. That enables automotive suppliers to produce lighter, thinner parts without diminishing their strength.

“OEMs get to use less SMC material to produce parts of equal performance at a cost-neutral point,” says Jalloul. The inclusion of graphene also encourages better flowability of the material within the mold, enabling the creation of more complex geometric shapes, and provides an aesthetically improved surface finish with better weatherability performance.

Understanding the best method to disperse the graphene into the SMC is key to getting the desired results. “There are multiple ways of dispersing powders into resin systems that are very well known. The tricky part is figuring out the process parameters: What are the steps? Where do you put it in? How long do you process it for? It’s the details of the process that are unique,” says Jalloul.

Functionalizing the Additive

MITO Materials doesn’t produce graphene. Instead, the company functionalizes or enhances it. Functionalization involves adding other elements to the graphene to improve its solubility, enhance its strength or improve its bonding to a host matrix material.

MITO initially functionalized graphene oxide with an epoxide polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane (POSS®) to produce its E-GO product.

“We give the graphene a chemical bath and use the points on the graphene oxide to attach the POSS, then we filter it and dry it. The use of POSS helps ensure a good dispersion of graphene in the polymer system and helps impart the strength, energy dispersion, toughness and durability of the material,” says Hailey Keith, who co-founded the company with her husband Kevin.

At a concentration of just 0.1% of the polymer’s weight, the functionalized graphene can boost the performance of both thermoset and thermoplastic composite materials between 20% and 135% above baseline. With functionalized graphene, manufacturers may be able to get a cheaper resin to perform as well as or even better than a more expensive resin, according to the company.

One sporting goods manufacturer is already selling skis that incorporate MITO’s E-GO graphene.

“Folsom Custom Skis did field tests with us for six months, making three pairs of skis with 10 grams of E-GO per ski, which came out to about a 1% concentration,” says Kevin Keith. “They found that they not only increased flex strength by 35% but also increased the dampening properties of the skis by 100%.” Addling graphene also reduced the weight of the skis by 20%.