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Good Things May Come In Small Packages

Nanocomposites will add properties, such as enhanced fire retardancy, to polymers.

Karen Koenig

In an age where bigger is oftentimes synonymous with better, nanotechnology is changing the paradigm.

Nanotechnology – in particular nanocomposites — was one of the buzzwords heard spoken at the recent K 2001. According to the show’s organizers, the plastics industry is embracing nanocomposites as the big business of the future.

German producers are alr
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eady embracing the technology, anticipating that its wide use in industrial applications will be worth “several billion U.S. dollars” to the economy. Nanotechnology is already being used in a variety of applications, including the recreational market, as a coating to condition surfaces on skis and snowboards so that drops of water bead off the material, thus reducing dirt and friction. Other developments underway include graffiti-resistant rail cars and new-wave non-stick baking pans.

The plastics industry is embracing another form of nanotechnology as the possible wave of the future. Nanocomposites, derived from “nanus,” the Latin word for dwarf, are what K show organizer Messe Düsseldorf calls “an entirely new category of materials whose extraordinary properties result from modified layered silicates in extremely fine dispersions.” In the general plastics arena, this technology can be used in polymer fillers, adding properties such as fire retardancy to the base material or or enhancing existing characteristics.

Aluminum silicate fillers, according to Günter Beyer in GAK, are the current choice in the production of nanocomposites. Extrusion, he adds, is reportedly the best production method, enabling the polymer and layered aluminum silicate to be blended during the melting stage.

There are numerous possibilities with this new technology. There are also some possible downsides. Because it is so new to the plastics industry, there is no “history” to fall back on in working with the material. As the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau pointed out, “There are no norms, no binding standards and no uniform measurement techniques. And that means that there are also no industrial safety regulations, no defined limits and no guidelines whatsoever for the elimination of any ‘nano-waste.’”

You have to start somewhere. So while data is being compiled, I believe that industry experts should continue to look at this new technology to bring innovations — and new market applications — to the plastics industry.

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