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In this article, we'd like to share some of our insights on the Asian nanotechnology commercialization trends, opportunities and challenges based on our onsite visits and interviewing with key companies and institutions.
November 24th, 2013
Insights on Asian Nanotechnology Commercialization
Nano carbon materials have demonstrated their value in the applications of electrically conductive plastics, high mechanical strength composites, batteries, heat sink, heating elements, and transparent conductive electrodes; copper and silver nano ink is taking their positions in printed electronics industries and replacing ITO as transparent conductive electrodes for touch screens, transparent EMI shielding and solar cells. Functional nano coating materials are playing their role in enabling transparent and flexible touch sensing, anti-fingerprint, anti-reflection, anti-corrosion and anti-scratch for cell phones, displays and solar cells. In this article we'd like to share some of our findings and insights on some of the nanomaterial commercialization trends, opportunities and challenges.
1. Opportunities and Challenges of Commercializing Nano Carbon Materials
Having developed large scale production capacity during 2010-2012, carbon nanotube (CNT) suppliers, such as Hodogaya, Toray, Hanwha Chemicals, Cnano, Applied Carbon Technology (ACN), Nanocyl, Arkema, Future Carbon and Bayer, have placed more efforts in application development (see Fig.1). Instead of supplying CNT powders, more players are supplying optimized masterbatch, dispersion and fabrics to save the customers' time in product development and speed up the industry adoption.
In addition, with the price of CNTs, especially MWCNTs significantly reduced these days, we also see a trend that some small and medium size companies buying CNTs and developing CNT enhanced composite materials instead of producing CNTs by themselves. Although applications in conductive plastics continue to dominate the nano carbon market, more players are working on the applications of nano carbon materials for battery electrodes, heating elements, heat sinks, high-end fishing rods/sporting goods, tires and parts with light-weight & strength.
Japanese researchers from TASC (Technology Research Association for SWCNT) and Shizuoka University have developed CNT fibers acting as conductive and super strong thread, which could be as long as 20 meters and could replace Cu wires in the future.
|Fig. 1 Commercial products enabled by CNT enhanced composites.|
CNT enhanced composites excel in light-weight and improved mechanical strength, being ramped-up for use in sporting goods, automotive and aerospace industries (see Fig.1). Zycraft (www.zycraft.com) launched in Singapore in Jan. 2013, two ultra-high performance boats, named Nimble Cheetah and Nimble Leopard, which are the first long range vessels (LRVs) made of nano-composites by its sister company, Zyvex Technologies (www.zyvextech.com) (the world's first molecular nanotechnology company specializes in processing nano carbon materials). These advanced LRV are designed for fuel efficiency and rough sea stabilization with a sprint speed over 40 knots and a range of over 1,500 nautical miles, more than three times the range of comparatively sized vessels. Korean companies such as Hanwha Chemical and ACN are working with their partners in developing and testing the CNT enhanced composites for the automotive industries. Currently the high price of these products is due to the high development costs and manufacturing costs. Especially for the automotive and aerospace applications, with their long evaluation and testing cycles, the speed to market is severely limited, although it is true for all the emerging technologies.
We have observed the acceleration of adoption of nano carbon materials in various industries. There just needs to be more development support for users to adopt nano carbon so that the markets ramp-up to a critical mass. That ramp-up will likely be in Asia.
2. Commercialization Status of Nano Carbon and Nano Silver Based Transparent Conductive Films Replacing ITO
With over 10 years development of Nano Carbon materials for application in transparent conductive films (TCF), it is yet to see its adoption in the market.
The sheet resistance of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) based TCF is in the range of 100 to 500 Ohm/sq at light transmittance of 80-85%. The high cost is a big issue limiting the commercialization speed because CNT based TCF requires high quality untangled CNT with single or few walls which need to be well dispersed to get the high enough transparency and conductivity.
Monolayer and few layer graphene TCF grown by CVD is a more promising candidate for replacing ITO. Graphene TCF can achieve a sheet resistance of 100-200 Ohm/sq at the light transmittance of around 85%. Graphene has become one of the most sexy materials after the winning of Nobel Prize in Physics 2010 and the hype over graphene has reached a fever pitch especially in China.
By Feb. 2013, AVIC (Aviation Industry Corporation of China) research institute and Chongqing Institute of Green Intelligent Technology had made breakthroughs in growing 12 inch and 15 inch graphene films for TCF, respectively. Excited by such news, hundreds of millions of Chinese RMB from public and private investors has been invested to the pilot production of graphene films and touch panels in China. However, many problems have to be solved before graphene can really replace ITO. For example, mass producing large area and high quality graphene films with controlled uniformity and repeatability, transfer of the films to commercial substrates without performance degradation, etc. And also, the current graphene films are too expensive.
Compared to Nano Carbon materials, Nano Silver (Ag) based TCF has moved faster toward the market and is starting to replace some ITO. Nano Ag based TCF has a wider sheet resistance ranging from tens of Ohm/sq to less than 1 Ohm/sq at the light transmittance of 85-90%, haze value around 2%, and very high flexibility, which can be used for EMI shielding where transparency is needed, such as touch screens and solar cells.
Fujifilm has shown its TCF branded as "EXCLEAR" since 2009. Based on the silver-halide photographic technology, Fujifilm can easily create the patterns that customers require, saving customers manufacturing costs and improving the speed to market. 3-D formability is another key advantage when the Nano Ag based TCF replaces ITO. This year Fujifilm showed off three types of speakers which are able to bend, flex and roll up, by combining the viscoelastic polymer and their "EXCLEAR" TCF.
Another company, CIMA Nanotech, whose Asia Headquarters and Application Development Center in Singapore, has developed a TCF based on their patented SANTE (Self-Aligning Nano Technology for Electronics) technology from around 10 years ago and stands alone in providing ultralow resistance with very high transparency and flexibility. SANTE film has been demonstrated to improve the conversion efficiency by 1% when it is used for solar cells, and enables very clear, fast response, multi-point, large format touch screens as well as highly conductive and transparent EMI shielding films with improved shielding performance. SANTE film can be transferred to plastics, polycarbonate, silicone and other substrates for In Mold applications. It is 3D patternable, corrosive-resistant and can easily be integrated into an existing In Mold process (see Fig. 2).
|Fig. 2 SANTE Film for transparent and flexible EMI shielding, which is 3D patternable, corrosive-resistant and can be easily integrated into an existing In-Mold process.|
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