Zyvex: Innovation at the Nanoscale

Story excerpt provided by the Ohio Development Services Agency.

Written by Nic Turner.

Carbon nanotubes are 100 times stronger than steel and weigh a sixth as much. They may be the key to creating ultra-light, ultra-strong products, but applying the technology has proved challenging. When carbon nanotubes are mixed with other materials, they stick to one another and cannot be dispersed evenly. In 1997, Texas-based Zyvex began researching the problem, eventually developing Kentera, a polymer additive that kept carbon nanotubes from grouping together. For the first time, carbon nanotubes were usable in composites and polymers. In 2007, Zyvex split apart and the newly-formed Zyvex Technologies relocated to Columbus, Ohio, bringing Kentera and its patent portfolio with it. In a partnership with Easton Sports, they produced the first carbon nanotube-enhanced sporting goods. Kentera now had commercial validation, but before it was ready for larger markets, Zyvex needed to deliver it in a more accessible format and prove that it was scalable. The company was awarded an Ohio Third Frontier grant in 2009 to accelerate the technology.

Zyvex and their team of nine industry and university collaborators began by improving the Kentera platform, making it more versatile and significantly less expensive to produce. This improved polymer enabled the creation of three new products that utilize carbon nanotubes: a composite material, an adhesive and a high-performance rubber. The products are made through an Ohio supply chain, which allows their customers to take advantage of the superior performance of carbon nanotubes and produce lighter, stronger and tougher products. In the last stage of the project, Zyvex partnered with an out-of-state company to put the products to use. They created the LRV-17: a 57-foot, all-nanocomposite marine vessel (check it out here). It is sold commercially and is the largest and most technical use of carbon nanotubes to date— exactly the validation Zyvex needed to pursue larger markets. They now sell their products globally in the aerospace, automotive, medical and sporting goods industries.

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