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July 8th, 2012
The Nanofibers 2012 symposium held in Tokyo, June 4-5, was very interesting and important as it brought together participants from the whole nanofiber value chain, from research, and equipment companies to industry players in various applications and even end users. Such opportunities are important as the whole industry can tackle the issues and unlock opportunities to further commercialize nanofiber applications. There was also a very large number of foreign participants, which was good to see for an event in Japan.
The nanofiber equipment company, MECC, described the difficult reality of the sometimes ‘chicken-and-egg' like nanofiber business, with customers being reluctant to invest in nanofiber because of concerns of:
- Lack of clear killer applications
- For every application, you have to optimize materials and conditions
- If they invest in production, will the market become large?
- Concerned if they can get good quality
However they also gave the characteristics of some of the companies that have succeeded in nanofibers:
- Need value added strengths + incorporate user needs
- Mass production with quality
- Have key know how & IP for mass production and quality
- Managers must create markets themselves
To help solve such issues of ramping up nanofiber businesses, a company, Nafigate, has started providing support to companies to help commercialize their nanofiber businesses. From the other talks, it seems something like this is necessary, so that many nanofiber ideas can get out of the ‘chicken and egg' state.
Presently, the ranking of nanofiber applications by production level are:
1) Air filters
2) Liquid filters
3) Technical textiles
4) Battery separators
In the never ending demand for improved performance in Lithium-ion batteries, Showa Denko described how they provide vapor grown carbon fibers (VGCF), which are like large multi-wall carbon nano tubes, to battery companies as conductive additives for anode and cathode electrodes. This extends the battery lifetime and improves performance. It is not widely know, but Showa Denko has been selling nanofibers into the battery market for over 10 years.
In water applications, companies like Nitto Denko are supplying nanofiber membranes for water desalinization systems. As desalinization uses huge power consumption, the National University of Singapore is working on Forward Osmosis (FO) systems, as well as using the idea of ‘osmotic power generation' to actually generate power.
Meanwhile, Veolia Water, the global waste water processing company, hinted at future potential for nanofibers in such applications, there are still issues of needing much larger surface areas, up to 100 m2/g, and low cost nanofibers. They suggested to start by going after the ‘lower hanging fruit', such as selling ‘cartridges', and focusing on ultra pure water, before ‘messy' waste waters.
In the bio-medical fields, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology(KAIST) of Korea described research of sensors using hollow tubes or half-tubes ‘decorated' with various species for disease detection. Such as ammonia and acetone sensors for kidney and diabetes detection, as well as toluene sensors for cancer detection.
Meanwhile, Teijin showed bone and tissue regeneration experiments with nanofibers.
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