Industry, manufacturing | Technology & innovation

Bryansk’s Metaclay and its next gen nanocomposites

2 Mar '12
Oleg Kouzbit, Online News Managing Editor

Innovative start-up Metaclay is developing outside Bryansk Russia’s first modified phyllosilicate and polymer nanocomposite production. With broad markets ranging from oil and gas to cable and car-making, in two-to-three years’ time this $65.5m Rusnano-backed endeavor is expected to generate $170+m sales. Export opportunities are also on the horizon. With an array of Russia’s research institutes developing cutting-edge technology for Metaclay the project is yet another success story of collaboration between business and science.

Innovative company Metaclay has recently launched in the town of Karachev outside Bryansk Russia’s first production of modified phyllosilicates and silicate-based polymer composites.

The new $65.5m facility will start by churning out 14,860 tons of polymer nanocomposites a year—enough to protect up to 400km of a large-diameter gas pipeline. This report came from Rusnano, Russia’s largest government-owned nanotech company kicking in the lion’s share of the Bryansk project funding, $38m. Plans are to more than triple Metaclay’s annual capacity to 50,000 tons in two-to-three years’ time.

In addition, from 2014 the company hopes to start supplying up to 25,000 tons of modified phyllosilicates, the basic raw material for nanocomposites, and have total sales of more than $170m.

Applications for Metaclay’s new products are wide and primarily include oil and gas (pipe coatings), food industry (advanced packaging), and cable production (improved insulation). Other composite-hungry markets are auto makers that need new solutions to make cars lighter and less ‘gas guzzlers’; paint and varnish companies seeking enhanced weather resistance for their products; and railroad builders who want organo-modified polymers to upgrade and reinforce rail braces.

A broad-based consortium

The project’s owner and primary technology driver is Bryansk’s Metaclay, a 28-month-old start-up co-established by Rusnano and a number of Russia’s leading research institutes, including Karpov Institute of Physics and Chemistry, Topchiev Petrochemical Synthesis Institute, Institute of High-Molecular Compounds, and some others.

Metaclay’s primary focus is development of domestic production of modified layered phyllosilicates, masterbatches (additives used to impart preferred properties to plastics) and next gen nanocomposite materials such as high-purity multipurpose nanocomposites, silane cross-linked composites and thermoplastic elastomers.

As the new project unfolds, the firm claims it will start offering synthesized materials with customized sets of properties, using most recent developments by its founding researchers as well as other academic institutions, such as Moscow State University and Mendeleev Chemical Engineering University.

The main funder of the Bryansk effort, government-owned Rusnano, has supported more than 130 nanoprojects with a total worth of $17.5bn over the past four years, Rusnano’s official website says.

Betting on nanocomposites

By 2014, polymer nanocomposites will account for about 80% of its products, Metaclay says.

Nanocomposites are advanced materials that consist of a plastic polymer base, or matrix, and a filler, typically organo-modified nanoclay. In this new project, Metaclay is using a natural raw material, montmorillonite, modifying the filler in the company’s proprietary technology to 10-to-200nm design rules.

By impacting end products’ crystallization capacity and thereby creating an additional diffusion barrier, the silicate filler’s nano-dimensional particles ultimately enhance innovative properties of polymer nanocomposites. According to the developers, these include near-zero combustibility and increased heat and fire resistance; superior shockproof properties and durability; resistance to fracturing and UV radiation; high vitrification temperatures; low gas and vapor permeability; improved physical-mechanical characteristics; and some other useful properties.

Beyond national borders

Analysts feel that in addition to making Metaclay a dominant player in domestic nanocomposites supply the Bryansk project may pave Russia its way to overseas markets as well. Somewhat lethargic at early development stages, the international nanocomposites segment has recently taken off with explosive demand from the car-making and packaging sectors.

The U.S. and Western Europe hold sway in the area, reportedly accounting for at least 80% of global volume sales. In the United States alone, nanocomposites may grow at a CAGR of 29% through 2020, according to estimates, and within 12-to-13 years turn into a $9bn market, with volumes nearing five million tons.
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