Polymer Nanocomposites

Published - Apr 2000| Analyst - Sam Brauer| Code - NAN021A
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Report Highlights

  • While available today in only pilot amounts, the production of nanocomposite materials will exceed 55 million pounds in 2004.
  • The value of market in 2004 will approach $200 million.
  • Greater understanding of the chemistry driving the formation of nanocomposites has enabled researchers to discover practical methods of production for these materials.
  • Replacement of thermoplastic by nanocomposites will not come on a wholesale basis, but will take place in applications where the improved performance of the nanocomposite justifies an increase in cost.

INTRODUCTION

OBJECTIVE AND PURPOSE OF THIS REPORT

This report focuses on polymer nanocomposites and their uses. There has been enormous interest in the commercialization of nanocomposites for a variety of applications, and several of these applications will be successful in the near future.

Mineral fillers, metals, and fibers have been added to thermoplastics and thermosets for decades to form composites. Compared to neat resins, these composites have a number of improved properties including tensile strength, heat distortion temperature, and modulus. Thus, for structural applications, composites have become very popular and are sold in billion pound quantities. These filled thermoplastics are sold in even larger volumes than neat thermoplastics. Furthermore, the volume of fillers sold is roughly equal to the volume of thermoplastic resin sold. Clearly, the idea of adding fillers to thermoplastics and thermosets to improve properties, and in some cases decrease costs, has been very successful for many years.

More recently, with advances in synthetic techniques and the ability to readily characterize materials on an atomic scale has lead to interest in nanometer-size materials. Since nanometer-size grains, fibers and plates have dramatically increased surface area compared to their conventional-size materials, the chemistry of these nanosized materials is altered compared to conventional materials.

Polymer nanocomposites combine these two concepts, i.e., composites and nanometer-size materials. Thermoplastics filled with nanometer-size materials have different properties than thermoplastics filled with conventional materials. Some of the properties of nanocomposites, such as increased tensile strength, may be achieved by using higher conventional filler loading at the expense of increased weight and decreased gloss. Other properties of nanocomposites such as clarity or improved barrier properties cannot be duplicated by filled resins at any loading.

Polymer nanocomposites were developed in the late 1980s in both commercial research organizations and academic laboratories. The first company to commercialize these nanocomposites was Toyota, which used nanocomposite parts in one of its popular car models for several years. Following Toyota's lead, a number of other companies also began investigating nanocomposites.

Most commercial interest in nanocomposites has focused on thermoplastics. Thermoplastics can be broken into two groups: less expensive commodity resins and more expensive (and higher performance) engineering resins. One of the goals of nanocomposites was to allow substitution of more expensive engineering resins with a less expensive commodity resin nanocomposite. Substituting a nanocomposite commodity resin with equivalent performance as a more expensive engineering resin should yield overall cost savings.

By a strict definition of nanocomposites, i.e., any filler submicron in size, there already are significant volumes of nanocomposites being produced. These amount to more than 20 million pounds. However, since these fillers are on the upper end of the nanocomposite size range, most sources have excluded them from consideration. This report covers these products but does not add their volumes into aggregate numbers of nanocomposite markets or production volumes to comply with the established convention.

At this point in time, there has been much less commercial interest in thermoset nanocomposites compared to thermoplastics. This neglect may not continue much longer since thermoset nanocomposites have some distinct advantages over neat thermoset resins. This report covers some possible markets for thermoset nanocomposites.

This report summarizes the nanocomposite products that have been developed, and covers those thermoplastics that probably will be developed into a nanocomposite. This report also covers applications for these nanocomposites, and estimates possible future markets for these materials. Armed with this information, readers with interests then can make sound judgments regarding marketing strategies, investment decisions, or strategic plans concerning the market for polymer nanocomposites. This report has been written to be readily accessible to those readers with backgrounds, but accuracy concerning the technical aspects of polymer nanocomposite manufacture has not been sacrificed.

REASONS FOR THIS STUDY

While there has been much ballyhoo in the popular press concerning the wonders of polymer nanocomposites, it is difficult to get solid information on how many of these nanocomposites are being produced and sold. Furthermore, many articles have presented wildly misleading information concerning the manufacture of these materials, their markets and applications. This report offers a timely picture of trends in polymer nanocomposites that cannot be obtained from other sources.

CONTRIBUTION OF THE STUDY

This report shows the current size (negligible) and the future size of the polymer nanocomposites market in the U.S. Since the U.S. probably will become the dominant producer, and is one of the largest markets for polymer nanocomposites worldwide, this report focuses heavily on trends in the U.S. Readers of this report will be able to distinguish between the hype concerning uses of polymer nanocomposites and the reality of the market. A number of potentially significant polymer nanocomposites markets have received relatively little press, and many of the published articles concerning the uses of these materials do not provide an accurate picture.

SCOPE AND FORMAT

To generate the information necessary to construct a reasonable future market for polymer nanocomposites, it is necessary to take a hard-headed look at the potential advantages and pitfalls of the current crop of these materials as compared with conventionally-filled polymers. This report does not delve into the likelihood of exotic new forms of transportation. instead, it is restricted to possible replacements of existing conventional materials by polymer nanocomposites. Applications of nanocomposite materials that are possible within five to 10 years also are discussed.

This report categorizes two types of polymer nanocomposites:

  • thermoplastic nanocomposites: these materials are broken into two major categories, i.e., commodity resins and engineering resins. The potential of polymer nanocomposite commodity resin is covered for each resin. Engineering resin nanocomposites are restricted to resins that have been under development.
  • thermoset nanocomposites: thermoset nanocomposites have received less commercial interest in their development than thermoplastic nanocomposites, but these materials may be relatively straightforward to bring into production. Furthermore, thermoset nanocomposites can offer some significant advantages over conventional thermosets.

The report is broken into six sections. First there is an overview that gives the broad details of polymer nanocomposites, along with some of their physical properties and manufacturing methods. Next, there is an extensive description of the industry that is developing polymer nanocomposites. This includes clay manufacturers, mineral filler manufacturers, thermoplastic resin producers and compounders, along with company profiles. Following this industry structure, there is a brief description of the government and academic laboratories that have been doing extensive research in polymer nanocomposites. Then there is a description of polymer nanocomposites by filler and resin type. After a products section, there is a description of the markets for polymer nanocomposites including future trends. The report concludes with a section on patents that have been filed pertaining to polymer nanocomposites.

METHODOLOGY AND SOURCES OF INFORMATION

This report is the end result of four months of concerted effort by the author. The primary information sources for this report came from interviews with several dozen people in industry, academe and the government. The author also attended meetings and conferences, and much precious insight was gained from these sources as well. Many of the people interviewed are recognized authorities in the field, and provided invaluable assistance. I would like to thank all who took the time to speak with me for their help with this project.

Since this study was not commissioned by any corporation or individual, the author's brief in writing it was to be as objective as possible.

Secondary sources used for this report include a number of publications issued by the federal government, including items on the Internet, corporate literature, and publications in peer-reviewed literature.

Any time an estimate for a number has been made, the underlying assumptions are discussed. Thus, if a reader chooses to interpret the raw data in a differing manner, it is possible to do so. Dollar amounts are in constant 1999 dollars, and average annual growth rates (AAGRs) are calculated using standard tables.

AUTHOR'S CREDENTIALS

The author has published more than a half- dozen studies at BCC, several of which relate directly to this report. The author also has performed custom studies for BCC, and presented original research to corporate clients. The author earned a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry by researching the formation of chromium complexes in an interdisciplinary group and is a member of SAMPE.

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