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Markets open doors to carbon nanotubes

Posted: 24 Feb 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:nanotubes carbon? nanotechnology? market industrial?

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are the most popular and recognizable elements of present nanotechnology. Scientists and researchers now are discovering that carbon nanotubes could be more affordable and useful to many industrial areas including flame retardant materials market.

The global flame retardant chemicals market is valued at just under $3 billion, with demand for non-flammable products ever growing. The CAGR of this market is estimated at 4 percent to 5 percent for the total market up to 2015. There will be stable demand in established markets such as North America and Europe. As of 2006, the North American market was valued at $780 million, and the European market was valued at $762 million. Based on its analysis, Frost & Sullivan believes that there are growing market opportunities for CNT's application as a flame retardant material.

"Now, CNTs are perceived as promising additives even in the flame retardant solutions," said Krzysztof Grzybowski, Frost & Sullivan analyst for Technical Insights group. "Based on our market recognition, we are assuming that phosphorous-based flame retardants will be the best market for carbon nanotubes as a flame suppressing agent to pursue in the future. Decreasing price of this additive will be accompanied by improvement in carbon nanotubes 'know how' with developers' and end-users' awareness about their beneficial features."

Greatest potential
Of the three types of nanotubes (single, double and multiwalled particles), single walled particles are judged by scientists to offer the greatest potential. However, multiwalled CNTs (MWCNTs) are the most reasonable ones for commercialization as a composite additive or coating element. They can be produced on a high scale at a relatively low price.

Originally costing about $1,000 per gram (for single-walled nanotubes), MWCNTs can now be mass produced for only $100/kg depending on the shipping. This price is expected to decrease to about $10-20/kg in a few years. New technological developments in nanotubes fabrication will increase its production capabilities.

Bayer Materials has announced plans of increasing production capacity of MWCNTs from 60 tones per year in 2007 to 3,000 tones per year by the end of 2012. With plans like this in place, commercial industries will no longer find cost a deterrent.

The CNTs are now being incorporated in various solutions as an agent providing non-flammable feature to various products and coating layers. As a flame retardant additive, MWCNTs prove to make stronger and more fatigue resistant material. It also tests beneficial for materials' electrical properties.

Stringent safety standards
The need for fire-resistant material is rising. Current regulations are forcing producers from the household sector, electronics, building and construction, transportation, and many others to meet increasingly stringent standards of fire safety. Commercialized products that benefit from flame retardants include plastic enclosures for consumer electronics, PCBs, wire and cable, electrical connectors, foam insulation, foam seating in furniture, automobiles, and textiles.

CNTs are more sought after than its cheaper brother, carbon nanofibers, because CNT particles provide material non-flammability with relatively small concentration compared with other fillers. In effect, this makes CNTs less visible and less noticeable by the end-user in the resultant material. CNTs increase non-flammability, while enhancing material strength or providing an ESD effect.

The only major hoop left to jump through is ensuring proper homogenous dispersion of CNTs for maximum benefit. Experiments proved that material failure as a flame retardant is attributed to poor dispersion. However, this problem can be easily avoided through current producers' technologies. To make sure of the quality of their product, current CNT producers are often selling them in the convenient form of master batches that help end-users to fully take advantage of CNTs' beneficial features.

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