A big opportunity for microscopic fibres

February 10, 2016— Sherbrooke, Quebec

Manufacturing the future of boron nitride nanotubes

Sometimes the only thing standing between an innovative product and its successful entry to market is the ability to scale-up production and meet demand. Such is the case with boron nitride nanotubes (BNNTs), the strongest, lightest, most conductive and chemically resistant fibre known to exist.

A revolutionary product with extraordinary potential, BNNTs have so far been unable to gain traction in domestic and international markets due mainly to the inability of manufacturers to produce them on an industrial scale. That is, until now.

Using specialized equipment from Quebec-based Tekna Plasma Systems Inc. and a new production method developed by the National Research Council (NRC), the partners have unlocked a unique and long-sought solution that will not only enable the large-scale production of BNNTs well into the future, but which will also position Canada as the largest BNNT producer in the world.

Mass-producing positive results

While previous efforts within the manufacturing industry produced nanotubes that were too big or too irregular in shape for the industrial synthesis of BNNTs, NRC's new induction thermal plasma process uses a high cooling rate to create impeccably small-diameter BNNTs at high yields and at high purity.

Empowered by this breakthrough, Tekna was quick to secure the exclusive rights to use NRC's process to manufacture and sell BNNTs for use in advanced composite materials, including fibres, fabrics and thin films. “These nanotubes enable entirely new classes of material performance across many industrial applications including aerospace, biomedical and automotive sectors,” says Luc Dionne, Chief Executive Officer at Tekna.

The licensing agreement also allows Tekna to manufacture BNNTs in high enough quantities for suppliers to begin integrating them into other materials such as ultralight ceramics and transparent armour. This distinct competitive advantage is certain to help Tekna open new doors and generate new business. “Tekna is proud to have worked through this ground-breaking agreement with NRC,” adds Mr. Dionne.

Strengthening the manufacturing industry

With a production rate over 100 times faster than earlier technologies, the NRC-Tekna partnership is set to create new market opportunities and leverage Canada's role as a world leader in the production of BNNTs. “By putting NRC’s innovative new material into the hands of a Canadian-based manufacturing firm, we are working to sustain and grow Canada’s market share in this important sector,” says Duncan Stewart, General Manager of Security and Disruptive Technologies at NRC.

Showcasing outstanding features such as optical and infrared transparency, neutron shielding, electrical insulation and electrical current generating abilities, “the many applications for the large-scale production of BNNTs will positively impact our defence and security industry, a critical engine of innovation within Canada,” adds Stewart.

With unique properties and unprecedented strength, boron nitride nanotubes are expected to revolutionize engineered materials in a wide range of commercial applications. Made possible through both ingenuity and collaboration, Canadian industry now has a significant head-start in weaving big returns from an incredibly small technology.

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