"This will be the first integrated company taking these products to market," says Lance Criscuolo, president of Zyvex, emphasizing the complementary strengths of the two companies. "Our focus is R&D – we outsourced a lot of our manufacturing years ago. What we enjoy from joining forces is access to high-quality carbon nanotubes at low cost."

Carbon nanotubes, the universal additive

The shared direction and focus on carbon nanotubes is the key motivation behind the alliance. With its proprietary technology, OCSiAl offers mass production of a material trademarked TUBALL, which the company claims consists of 75% pure carbon nanotubes. Max Atanassov, CEO of OCSiAl in the US, states the company’s production capacity at 10 tonnes of carbon nanotubes per year, with costs starting at $2000 per kilogram. "This is approximately 50 times cheaper than the closest competitor for comparable quality," he adds.

The companies have sufficient confidence in TUBALL that their plans for extending the business are directed at finding more customers for this product rather than developing new materials. Atanassov says that single-walled carbon nanotubes are more effective than multi-walled versions for modifying a material’s properties, reducing the amount of additive required. "This means you can make a significant breakthrough without investing in changing the production process and infrastructure, as you would if you had to use more additives," explains Atanassov.

Atanassov also emphasises the versatility of carbon nanotubes as additives, citing the 20,000 existing patents around the material. "But it is not yet implemented because of the high cost and low availability," he adds. OCSiAl claim that their manufacturing process addresses these cost and accessibility barriers, but extending the range of materials for which TUBALL can be easily and effectively added to the manufacturing process remains far from trivial - and here the chemistry expertise at Zyvex will be in high demand.

Nanotube applications

While Zyvex expects future activities to be "business as usual", Criscuolo admits there is room to expand their scope. Applications they have developed so far have exploited mechanical properties of carbon nanotubes, working with companies such as Airbus and Easton sporting goods. But OCSiAl has worked in other areas. Commercial products include an additive for lithium ion batteries that improves the cycle life and charge/discharge speed, as well as an additive that improves the properties of tyres. Previous additives had improved one aspect of a tyre’s performance, but at the detriment of another.

Commercial outlook

OCSiAl is also excited by what Zyvex brings to the table, in addition to its R&D expertise. "Zyvex has a strong commercial focus," says Atanassov. "There are a huge number of teams working in this field but Zyvex was unique in this aspect and we were impressed by their commercial focus."

The joint venture will have a staff of 180 employees working largely in R&D. Whether the combined efforts of these two companies will succeed in opening up a mainstream market for carbon nanotubes remains to be seen, but the enthusiasm is clear. "We want to unite forces and be the first company to demonstrate real commercial success in an application of carbon nanotubes," says Atanassov. "This is the future!"