This Small Businesss Innovation Reseach (SBIR) project will address a major technological barrier to producing superior nanocomposites by overcoming the difficulty of dispersing nano-fillers uniformly in a host matrix to derive the maximum surface area advantage. When effective filler dispersion is coupled with improved polymer-clay interactions, a significant technological gap in the field of polymer nanocomposites can be addressed. The company, nanoSEC has licensed, developed, and 'validated' (lab scale) a supercritical fluid-based dispersion (SCFP) technology, that produces significant clay dispersion using a simple, versatile, environmentally friendly process that utilizes the unusual properties of supercritical CO2. During Phase I, the clay dispersion conditions were optimized and showed significant property improvements in the resultant nanocomposites that were appreciably better than those in literature. During Phase II, these technical accomplishments will be translated towards commercial success by: (1) producing and benchmarking pilot-scale polystyrene/clay, polyethylene/clay, polypropylene/clay nanocomposites for mechanical and barrier property improvements, with applications in automotive and food packaging industries; (2) scaling up the pilot production process to produce 200 lbs/week of dispersed clay in Year 1, and to produce 1 million lbs/year of polymer-clay nanocomposites (at 10% clay loading) by Year 3; (3) developing specific joint development agreements with business customers for faster adaptation of nanoSEC's technology in actual products.
Commercially, nanoSEC's technology addresses a key need in nanocomposites, which could single-handedly revive the packaging technology applications of nanocomposites. Several companies have expressed strong interest in joint development agreements. Working closely with Wayne State, and end users like Ford, Daimler Chrysler, and GE Plastics will enable nanoSEC to advance both on research and commercial sides to produce a revenue of close to $ 8 million by the end of 2008. The Phase II project will enable pilot-commercial scale validation for rapid development and nanoSEC's location in the state-of-the- art NextEnergy building in Detroit, and the familiarity of the participants with the automotive and food packaging industry will enable unique applications to be achieved in a timely manner. The 'top down' strategy to partner with end users will enable fast implementation upon validation.