Insights from industry.
A talk with Bernd Runge by Stuart Milne as a part of "Insights from Industry" project of Azonano.
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SM — Could you please provide a brief introduction to the industry that OCSiAl works within and outline the key drivers?
BR — OCSiAl is manufacturing a very unique nanoscale additive — Single Wall Carbon Nanotubes, called TUBALL™ — which has the potential to alter the properties of about 70% of the materials known to us. You can for instance give electrical conductivity to plastic and rubber materials, you can make composite materials 50% stronger. But there are other properties which will have to be explored with regard to CNT in the future like thermal conductivity, chemical resistivity, flame retardancy and many others.
SM — How does TUBALL differ from other additives on the market?
BR — The CNT-world is basically divided into two groups — Single Wall (SWCNT) and Multi Wall Carbon Nanotubes (MWCNT). The difference might be described most impressively by looking at the price levels of both product groups and the production volume. Prior to OCSiAL entering the market, SWCNT have been sold in a range of 30.000–500.000 USD/kg, while MWCNT are sold in a range of about 75-200 USD/kg. This gap shows that we are speaking about totally different classes of additives. Each of them has its own application fields so far. OCSiAl is offering its TUBALL™ for about 3.000 USD/kg and this is shaking the market completely. Another outstanding feature of our proprietary technology is the purity grade of our synthesis product of 75% of SWCNT together with a high G/D-ratio of about 70. This is setting a new quality standard for the whole industry.
This price, the scalability of our technology and the low loading level of only a few hundredths of a percent enable an economically viable application of our TUBALL™ in nearly every matrix material where in the past only MWCNT could have been applied due to the huge price difference.
SM — What industries primarily benefit from this?
BR — A very large variety of industries, starting from companies specializing in the applied use of nanotechnology and up to large multi-industrial corporations. As already briefly mentioned – applications in plastic materials, composites, elastomers, Li-Ion battery materials and others are realized with a loading level of 0,01–0,1 % of TUBALL™ which is ten to a hundred times lower compared with MWCNT. Taking all of this in to account, it becomes clear that our non-purified TUBALL™ is able to cover basically all applications where you need purified MWCNT due to the higher loading level, the low CNT-content in the synthesis product and the use of non-environmentally friendly catalysts by many MWCNT-manufacturers.
SM — Are there any recent case studies that you are particularly proud of?
BR — When we started the project five years ago we understood that we were faced with two basic challenges: firstly — to manufacture the material, secondly — to apply the material in different material matrixes. Today we are sure that we’ve mastered the first one. At the same time we understand how important it is for us to facilitate the solving of the second one.
SWCNT have a very complex behaviour what makes its application really challenging. We are ready to go the first step for a broad variety of materials. Therefore we have established our own laboratory especially for applications in Li-ion Battery electrode materials and for Transparent Conductive Films. That enabled us to develop TUBALL™-suspensions (TUBALL™ BATT and TUBALL™ INK) for these applications.
At the same time as making our own developments, we are engaged in joint development programs with different institutes, universities and manufacturers mainly in the US, Germany and Russia. To name only a few here in Germany – we are working with several institutes from Fraunhofer and Leibniz societies as well as with Deutsches Kautschuk Institute. These programs are aimed to develop TUBALL™-masterbatches for thermoplastics, resins, elastomers and coatings. The development of these masterbatches will enable a broad range of applications in a big variety of these materials.
Furthermore, we are investing in an own technical centre for thermoplastics, resins/composite materials, elastomers and coatings which will enable us to build up our own R&D capacities for the application of TUBALL™ in these material classes.
Finally, our technology allows scaling the TUBALL™ production up. Our first operative prototype of an industrial reactor for TUBALL™ production, which is called Graphetron 1.0, has a capacity of up to 10 tons per annum, which is more than the capacity of all existing facilities, and its potential capacity is around 50 tons per annum. If you summarize all of this it becomes clear that the future is with TUBALL™.
SM — How does your partnership program help industries, which have previously experienced difficulties with the industrial usage of nanomodifiers?
BR — Basically, special terms and conditions of our partnership program make TUBALL™ significantly more accessible for different industries. It is not our intention to manufacture and sell all these suspensions and masterbatches by ourselves. The key element of our partnership program consists in developing of stable relationships with specialized companies which will manufacture Tuball suspensions and masterbatches. We are building only the fundament for our potential partners, which will continue and enhance the application development of TUBALL™ by themselves. They are the experts in their materials world, not us. They will manufacture and basically sell their suspensions and masterbatches to thousands of different companies, which will apply materials modified by TUBALL™ in their products.
These companies will already not experience problems with the application of Tuball because the Tuball suspensions and masterbatches which will be provided through our partnership program will behave basically the same way as suspensions and masterbatches with traditional additives (like colors, Carbon Black etc.) are doing. We will make it economically very attractive for our partners to develop and manufacture Tuball suspensions and masterbatches. We will provide them very attractive incentives, mainly price wise.
SM — What are the major advantages of using TUBALL through your partnership program?
BR — Our partners will basically get from us the following:
Samples of TUBALL™ suspensions and masterbatches
Validation of these materials by independent institutes
Technology for the manufacturing of TUBALL™ suspensions and masterbatches
TUBALL™ on an even more attractive price basis
And of course, we will need certain regional and country partners with the competence to guide us in the markets and industries, to build up and manage the cooperation with our manufacturing partners where we are not able or ready to do it by ourselves.
SM — How is this unique to the market?
BR - In my view it is unique because we are not going to compete with an own masterbatch production against other manufacturers of these products, which have already been on the market for decades.
We are trying to integrate these manufacturers into our market approach together with their complete product know-how and market power. We will try to convince them to integrate TUBALL™ suspensions and masterbatches into their product portfolio by doing our homework of developing the basic technologies for the suspension and masterbatch production, by validating the results with independent institutes and by providing samples to them and their customers. We are not going to compete with them, but to be their partner. Therefore we called our program “Partnership Program”.
SM — Where do you currently supply to? Are there plans to expand operations in the near future?
BR — We supply to US, some European and Asian countries – according to the locations of our offices. However, in response to the significant market interest, we’re establishing a global dealer and partner network. We’re looking into expanding to other markets such as UAE, Turkey, Argentina, Brazil, France, Italy, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan. We’re looking into setting up new partnership connections there. On top of that, we’re launching an online store shortly which will allow to purchase TUBALL™-products practically from any part of the world.
SM — How do you see your sector progressing over the next decade and how will OCSiAl be a part of this change?
BR — I am sure that our outstanding product together with our partnership program will distinguish OCSiAl from everybody in the nanomaterials world. We’ll provide the right product together with an application and market strategy, which will enable carbon nanomaterials to leave the niche where they have been in for the last ten years. The time has come now.
About Bernd Runge
Bernd Runge is Vice President and Head of OCSiAl Europe, based in Berlin. Bernd has over 25 years of experience with technology and machinery, including 10 years in sales and marketing of machine tools and industrial equipment. For 15 years, he had been employed by a subsidiary of Daimler Group, where he was responsible for the development and realization of industrial as well as for sales and marketing projects in Russia and Middle East. Bernd holds a degree in foreign economy and is responsible for OCSiAl’s sales and R&D activities in Germany and in several other countries. He’s been working with OCSiAl for more than 4 years by now.