Anti-static packaging is one newer area where graphene’s conductivity properties could soon be commercially applied. Brent Balinski reports.
After nearly two years of exploration, two Australian companies have signed an agreement to take the “wonder material” graphene into its next commercial domain: in anti-static and static-dispersive polymers.
Yesterday graphene technology business Imagine Intelligent Materials and engineering plastics specialist Duromer Group announced an MoU to develop commercial applications that use graphene’s unique properties.
“Fuel hosing is a huge market in automotive, and is currently a very complex product with several layers and some fairly expensive materials,” Andrew Stewart, Director of DuroColour Australia and General Manager of Duromer Products, told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
“Most of that is around gaining the right level of conductivity so that you don’t get static buildup and flashover. And also in applications for gas piping.”
The other area of developmental focus is around harnessing anti-static properties in packaging.
This is often an area where carbon black and other additives are currently used, but the anti-static properties of this can degrade over time, and, for carbon black, the colour of the packaging is strictly limited.
“There are certain issues in terms of vacuum forming for packaging or getting the right kind of tenacity or elongation out of the film, so it doesn’t tear easily,” said Stewart of carbon black.
Phil Aitchison, head of R&D and Chief Operating Officer at Imagine IM, told Manufacturers Monthly that, “You need a lot of carbon in there, and the more conductivity you need, the more carbon you need.
“People can put up to 10 per cent carbon into these plastics to get the right properties, and it weakens the physical properties.”
“[But] that’s not where the value is; it’s not replacing carbon with graphene and saving some money. It’s saving the money in the flow-on benefits, like needing less plastic, or creating more valuable products. It’s not about cost-downs off the raw material itself, it’s the flow-on effects from using graphene which give you cost-downs.”
The applications originally considered by Duromer were in barrier films, an area where graphene’s impermeability to gases and liquids might hold potential. It might, perhaps, have been able to cut down the number of layers requireds.
“Potentially [we could] replace some of the more complex films in the market currently that have got seven, nine and 11 layers,” explained Stewart of early conversations and ambitions.
The conversations slowed, however, with Imagine IM’s targeting of geotextile applications, which it has focussed on for the last 18 months. Also, until fairly recently, output of functionalised graphene was a limitation. Now, however, production can be measured in tonnes rather than grams per year.
Imagine IM has recently successfully completed field trials for graphene coatings, used to detect leaks, on Geofabrics Australasia’s bidim nonwoven textile product. This is expected be available commercially by the year’s end.
The company also opened a pilot graphene plant in Geelong earlier this year, for which it won (with Austeng) an innovation prize at the Australian Engineering Excellence Awards this month.
Under this week’s MoU announcement, the goal is to develop graphene-enhanced concentrate materials to supply injection moulding or extrusion manufacturers.
“And that’s where Durocolour Vietnam comes into it,” explained Stewart of the site opened by its subsidiary in November last year.
The company makes specialised engineering materials at its Preston’s, western Sydney plant, and it will first attempt to get graphene into polymers will be in Vietnam.
“We feel it’s a cheaper way to get the benefits to the end customer, but if we can’t achieve it in the master batch, for whatever reason, then the next level down is compounding,” he said.
“And we’re confident that we can do it with compounding. I don’t think there’s much of a risk there. But the onus at the moment is on trying to develop a master batch to sell into southeast Asian supply chains, for sale use in applications such as electronics packaging and mining.”
It might take three to six months to develop products that were mouldable, extrudable, or perhaps printable, though the timeline is not certain, said Stewart.
“With any development process, there’s a lot of unknowns, so we’ll see how we go,” he added.