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New opportunities in CNTs to open up subject to price decrease

New opportunities in CNTs to open up subject to price decrease

31-Jan-11
Chemical companies are speculating on a bright commercial future for carbon nanotubes. Bayer MaterialScience, Arkema, Thomas Swan, Nanocyl are few of the 40 CNT suppliers globally. These manufacturers differ in how they deliver their CNTs to the composites market. Bayer is a supplier of multi walled carbon nanotubes, Arkema produces thermoplastic masterbatch products that feature CNTs,. Nanocyl integrates its CNTs into thermoplastic and thermoset masterbatches, water-based systems, raw powder and carbon fiber prepreg. Most manufacturers currently use catalytic chemical vapour deposition (CVD) to make the CNTs. This essentially involves growing the CNTs by passing a carbon-based gas, such as methane or ethylene, over metal particles that catalyse CNT growth. Although there are other methods for producing CNTs, they don't produce CNTs in such large quantities as CVD. So most existing manufacturers are concentrating on developing more efficient versions of CVD, as well as gaining more control over the types of tubes manufactured, as per Jon Evans. There are two basic types of CNTs: single-walled (SWNTs), which comprise a one-atom thick sheet of graphite rolled into a tube; and multi-walled (MWNTs), consisting of numerous SWNTs nested inside each other. Most manufacturers concentrate on producing MWNTs, which are easier to produce with CVD but see wide variations in length, width and number of walls. These variations are of low consequence because CNTs are usually added in bulk to strengthen polymers in products such as vehicle chassis and sports goods. But more advanced uses of CNTs will require specific types of SWNT. An area that is growing very rapidly is advanced electronics, as SWNT-based electronic circuits are being flaunted as a way to continue shrinking the computer chip. But electronic applications still face a major hurdle: the precise arrangement of carbon bonds in SWNTs determines whether they are metallic or semi-conducting, and all the current synthesis methods produce a mixture of the two. Although a number of methods have been developed for separating them, such as centrifuging SWNTs in a density gradient or attaching diazonium salts and then separating them by electrophoresis, none have yet left the laboratory.
CNT is difficult to disperse in polymers. It can destabilize polymer/fiber matrix. Agglomeration of CNT should be prevented to achieve its effect fully. Generally 1% addition improves mechanical performance. The improvement then flattens out or plateaus out. For electrical properties 3% is required. At this level viscosity increases significantly. Cost is the biggest hurdle, with pricing starting at about US$100/kg. If research can open up paths to commercialisation - in applications such as computer chips, sensors and display units � it is likely that a booming market could drive improvements in production to deliver lower costs. Despite over 40% annual growth in the CNT market, its long-term future is still uncertain. New opportunities will open up subject to a decrease in the cost and price of carbon nanotubes over the next few years, for which companies need to discover cheaper ways to manufacture CNTs, failing which, CNTs will continue to remain a novel product at research level but the industry will shun its large commercial use.
Among the numerous categories in the evolving field of newly synthesized nanomaterials, carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are perhaps among the most dynamic and undergoing the most rapid pace of development. The past 5 years have witnessed relentless growth in the research, development, and technological understanding of these remarkable materials. Universities, small businesses, and start-ups, as well as large corporations, have continued to probe and exploit numerous commercial possibilities, as per a report by BCC Research. The most tangible evidence for growth and interest is reflected in the emergence of new CNT producers now capable of offering the materials in commercial-scale quantities in kilograms, tonnes, and even hundreds of tons, depending on the specific grade at more affordable and increasingly competitive unit pricing. The carbon nanotubes market was valued at an estimated US$104 mln in 2009, and is expected to increase to US$167 mln by the end of 2010. Growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 58.9%, it is projected to be worth nearly US$1.1 bln in 2015. The multi-walled segment has the largest share of the market at an estimated US$161 mln in 2010, and is expected to increase by 2015 to nearly US$866 mln, for a 5-year CAGR of 53.1%. The few-walled segment is valued at an estimated US$6 mln in 2010, but is expected to increase at a CAGR of 139.7% to reach nearly $63 mln in 2015. The segment with the greatest projected 5-year rise in value is the single-walled, which is expected to grow from US$250,000 in 2010 to US$125 mln in 2015, for a CAGR of 372.9%. Today, the CNT-polymer composites market is by far the largest product consumer of commodity-grade multi-wall carbon nanotubes (MWNTs). It is predicted to expand significantly. This is spurred by the promise of increased lightweight-strength and exceptional electrically-conductive characteristics of CNTs used, for example, in automobiles, sports equipment, and wind turbines. For these applications, uniform dispersion of MWNTs in the host matrix material will be especially critical. Eventually, further impetus is expected by the looming possibility of penetrating the aerospace sector. Breakthroughs in other matrix composites as well as smart network sensors are among other strong market contenders.
Global market for CNT grades based on committed production reached US$103 mln in 2009. This market is projected to reach US$167.2 mln in 2010 and US$1 bln in 2014 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 58.9%. Multi-wall CNT grade market is nearly US$103 mln in 2009. This market is projected to reach US$161 mln in 2010 and US$865.5 mln in 2014, for a 5-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 53.1%. Few-wall market was down in 2009 to US$0.79 mln. This market is projected to reach approximately US$6 mln in 2010 and to reach US$62.5 mln in 2014, for a 5-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 139.7%.

Carbon nanotubes enable radical design changes for a wide variety of markets by permitting combinations of properties not previously possible in materials design and affording multi-functionality for increased efficiency. The challenge is translating the excellent combination of nanotubes properties on the nanoscale to structural properties on the macroscale. Contrary to most hyperbolic estimates, the current global market for carbon nanotubes has been measured by Nanoposts.com at approximately US$$247 mln. At present nanotubes represent a niche materials additives market; but one with limitless revenue potential however current hindrances include: inconsistent quality of carbon nanotubes supply; dispersion; characterization of carbon nanotubes nanocomposites; and scaling down processing equipment to work around the low CNT supply as per Nanoposts. New functionalised nanotubes applications will come onto the market in the next few years that will greatly increase global revenues to US$2.7 bln plus by 2015; driven mainly by the needs of the electronics and data storage, defence, energy, aerospace and automotive industries. The electronics and data storage market is likely to see the biggest penetration to 2015, with the performance enhancing properties of carbon nanotubes allowing electronics manufacturers to meet demanding market needs across a variety of applications. Their incorporation into the displays applications will also increase demand, with a conservative revenue forecast of US$1.07 bln by 2015.
As commercial-scale production ramps up, the significant decrease in cost for these high performance materials will also drive new applications. Up to now, most carbon nanotubes production has been on a pilot-scale level; however scale-up of production by large multi-nationals such as Arkema, Bayer MaterialsScience and Showa Denko and access to cheaper nanotubes from Russian and China will greatly increase commercialization opportunities.
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