High-performance Carbon Nanotube-based Composites

Adaxius Corp. is developing a technology to manufacture carbon nanotube (CNT)-based composites that maintain the exceptional mechanical, thermal and electrical properties of carbon nanotubes. The technology also features compatibility with smart manufacturing, including additive manufacturing that would dramatically improve the flexibility of designing and manufacturing structural components with complex geometries.

Critical Need for the Technology

Manufacturing tries to find an optimal point among many specifications for structural materials. On the one hand, more robust additives reduce the use of materials while achieving the same mechanical strength, leading to a reduction in overall cost. On the other hand, handling and storing commodities made of bulky materials consumes a lot of energy. Today, even the most popular electrical vehicle usually accommodates 4-5 passengers, while its battery weighs as much as 5-10 persons.

The strength of existing lightweight materials such as aluminum alloys, although strong enough for many applications, still cannot meet the requirements of others. If high-strength materials such as steel are used, the product’s weight may exceed specifications. Also, it is often difficult to manufacture large and complex workpieces made from tough materials with relatively inexpensive processes.

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) could address the challenges above. They are lighter than aluminum but stronger than steel. However, in previous attempts at making CNT-based composites, the properties of the CNTs were significantly degraded due to the interfacial incompatibility and distribution inhomogeneity of the CNT filler in the (polymer) matrix. A composite fabrication process that preserves the exceptional properties of CNTs is highly desirable.

Supplemental Need for this Technology

There is a broad and lasting demand for light and strong structural materials. Examples include sporting equipment, high-speed vehicles and aircraft, vessels for hydrogen storage and aerospace applications. Adaxius is contributing to developing CNT-based composite materials that can meet these requirements.

Potential CO2 Reduction

Adaxius is developing a technology to fabricate carbon nanotube (CNT)-based composites that maintain the exceptional mechanical, thermal and electrical properties of carbon nanotubes. By increasing the mechanical properties of high-strength metals like titanium, steel, and aluminum, less material can be used to deliver the same functional strength.

Globally, production of these metals emitted 390 MtCO2e in 2020. Adding even 0.1 percent carbon nanotubes by weight can reduce the amount of structural metal needed by 25-50 percent. With a modest market adoption rate of 6.7 percent of structural metal used in automotive and aerospace sectors, Adaxius would deliver 10 MtCO2e emissions reduction from the production of these metals.

Competition

  • Mechanical properties of the CNT-based composites made from the conventional formation methods are much lower than that of the original carbon nanotubes. The composites’ homogeneity is also seriously affected by randomized agglomerates of the CNT filler.
  • Current manufacturing technologies for structural materials face challenges in delivering extremely high mechanical strength while staying lightweight. It is also difficult to realize the tunable properties of the materials through these technologies.
  • A majority of the structural components are manufactured via conventional processes such as injection molding instead of the emerging additive manufacturing; therefore, many devices with complex geometries are not available on the market.

Potential Markets

  • Battery enclosures for electric vehicles
  • Vessels for hydrogen storage
  • High strength materials for applications like wind turbine blades
  • High performance sporting equipment
  • Potentially many defense applications

Key Innovation

Adaxius is developing a family of CNT-based composite materials that maintains the original properties of carbon nanotubes.

R & D Status of Project

Adaxius has demonstrated a significant improvement of strength in a polymer composite after introducing the CNT filler. The company will soon be testing its composite materials at an independent laboratory following aerospace-standard ASTM test protocols.

Team Overview

Hongjun Zeng, PhD., CTO and Co-founder:  Scientist and principal investigator of multiple governmental (NSF, DOE, NIH and DOD, etc.) innovation projects with fund > $5.5M in total. R&D director in advanced manufacturing and nanotechnology. Inventor of 13 patents and author of 60+ journal papers. Winner of R&D 100 Award.

Neil Kane, President:  Experienced entrepreneur, founder of many hard-tech companies including Advanced Diamond Technologies (spun out of Argonne National Laboratory). Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Illinois. Recognized for Excellence in Entrepreneurship by the National Science Foundation. Faculty member at the University of Notre Dame.

Technology Profile

Status: R&D
Primary industry: Materials
Category (i.e. tech keywords): Structural materials

Estimated annual revenue: Pre-Revenue
Employs: Three
Social challenge: Saving energy and improving material performance
R&D commercial collaborator: Not disclosed

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