Halloysite Nanotubes (HNTTM ) provide a new avenue for the preparation of nanocomposites. Halloysite is a naturally occurring member of the kaolin family of aluminosilicate clays. Its uniqueness is that it exists predominantly in a tubular form with lengths of up to 10 microns and diameters of up to 400 nm rather than the deck of cards platy form of essentially all other clays. Well behaved dispersions of HNT in nylon-6, polypropylene, TPO and several varieties of PE have been obtained by standard melt processes. In all cases, improved physical performance has been realized for molded parts. HNT have also been dispersed in polymer latexes and dispersions at quite high loadings. These polymer and clay dispersions have been coated and produce coatings with useful performance properties.
Challenges With Today’s Nanocomposite Materials
Today, most nanocomposites used in the plastics industry are made with “platy nanoclay” materials, but these clays are very difficult and expensive to process. Platy clays, such as the Kaolin clay below, contain layered two-dimensional sheets held together by an intercalation (or intermediary) layer. The sheets must first be exfoliated, or chemically separated, so they can function as nanoparticulate fillers and be dispersed in the polymer matrix. In today’s platy nanoclay production process, these multiple steps lead to complexity, cost, and dispersion quality challenges. In addition, most manufacturers do not have the specialized equipment needed to produce composites with platy nanoclays – this required investment is the biggest market barrier for nanoclays.
NaturalNano’s patent product bypasses these multiple processing steps and complex chemistry by offering the manufacturer a turnkey drop-in solution that runs on standard conventional equipment. Pleximer is a turnkey concentrate in the form of pellets that can be added directly into the extruder by the end manufacturer. Pleximer contains Halloysite clay nanotubes, shown below, that are blended with a specific polymer base utilizing NaturalNano’s patent technology. The resulting product is a drop-in additive.
Pleximer doesn’t require the expensive exfoliation process needed by platy clay systems, and it successfully provides the required dispersion in a polymer matrix. Platy nanoclays, by comparison, have trouble achieving uniform dispersion, even with exfoliation, and work with a limited number of polymer families.
The nanocomposite market is also limited by the small number of manufacturers that have invested in the know-how and the specialized equipment necessary to run platy nanoclays. NaturalNano believes that the Pleximer technology will have rapid industry acceptance because it enables manufacturers to produce nanocomposites with existing equipment. NaturalNano is currently focused on leveraging this new drop-in, turnkey advantage to a select number of industrial compounders who supply major industries such as automotive, performance sporting goods and aerospace.