Insights from industry

Improving Composites Using Graphene: An Interview With Allen Clauss

In this ‘insights from industry’ interview, Dr. Allen Clauss, Vice President of R&D for Xolve, Inc., talks to AZoM regarding Xolve’s use of graphene and other nanomaterials to improve a wide array of polymer composites.

GT: I understand the original discovery that Xolve is founded on came from the University of Wisconsin, could you tell us why that discovery was important for commercial materials research?

AC: Yes, the original discovery came from Professor James Hamilton and one of his gifted students at the University of Wisconsin’s nanocenter.

We have all seen how nanotechnology has long offered the promise of wonderful new materials but to date this technology has fallen noticeably short of such potential.

In spite of billions invested in nanomaterials research, no life-changing nano products have made their way to market and , possibly more importantly, nanomaterials have not been broadly adopted in common applications.

There are two reasons for this, the first is a technical reason. The base problem of nanomaterials is that their potential super properties are, to a large degree, based on their surface area when measured in isolation.

We have all heard those metrics—nanocarbon being 1,000 times the conductivity of copper and 100 times the tensile strength of steel. In reality, however, these materials bind to themselves, they clump and aggregate, loosing that surface area and those potentially super properties.

Xolve’s original discovery was something thought impossible in nanomaterials—the base discovery showed that optimum solvents could be determined on a nanoparticle by nanoparticle basis, making these materials soluble for the first time.

GT: So Xolve can put nanoparticles into solution?

AC: Yes, we can use our ability to determine optimum solvents to tune a solvent set for a wide range of nanomaterials.

This capability not only lets us disperse a wide range of nanoparticles in true solutions but also allows us to exfoliate many of these materials from their non-nano forms—graphite to graphene, for instance.

Using this technology we arrive at nano particles—graphene nanoplatelets, for instance—that are free of dispersants, oxygen molecules or other molecules attached through functionalization.

We can, therefore, produce very pure, therefore very active, graphene and other nanomaterials and do so at low cost.

GT: How does that technology help Xolve make better polymer composites?

AC: By itself it doesn’t. Although being able to make extremely stable solutions of nanoparticles was once thought to be the holy grail of nanotechnology, it is really just the first step in Xolve’s technology.

After the patent filing on the initial discovery Xolve was formed as a company and began work to use the technology to fundamentally change the previously poor price/performance ratio of nanomaterials.

It is not enough, however, to disperse these materials to begin with—you have to maintain that dispersion into the target material in order to maintain the super properties of the nanoparticle and to significantly change attributes of the target material.

This brings us to the second part of the historical problem with nanomaterials—what is generally a business problem.

For years nanomaterials producers threw carbon nanotubes, for instance, over the wall to applications providers and assumed that those applications developers would solve the dispersion problems. This generally didn’t happen.

GT: How is Xolve aiming to avoid similar issues?

AC: Xolve provides master batch materials heavily loaded with graphene or other nanomaterials that can be adopted by end users without special equipment or know how. These master batches can be let down like any other master batch containing standard fillers.

In order to do that Xolve developed a chemical tool kit that allowed us to get those dispersed materials into all of the world’s most used industrial polymers and keep them dispersed in the final material.

Once again we did this without adding chemical dispersants or using functionalization. Through the use of our tool kit we are able to significantly modify attributes such as strength, conductivity, and barrier properties of the target material.

We can also improve multiple attributes simultaneously where other carbon fillers typically lessen one attribute to improve another—make materials weaker in order to make them more conductive, for instance.

Also due to the high purity and activity of our materials we get a significant multiplier effect when compared to standard fillers.

Our graphene, for instance, can replace standard carbon fillers at an as much as a 1:10 ratio. This high activity level and its resultant multiplier also keep the price down on our improved materials. Frequently the material being replaced is not inexpensive and if we can replace 10 units of it with one unit of our material we can frequently produce a significantly improved material at the same or similar cost.

In all cases we are focused on providing the user-customer with something that provides the dramatic properties of nanomaterials in a way they can readily be used and at a reasonable cost.

GT: Will this ultimately improve the commercial viability of nanomaterials?

AC: Yes, our entire business model is to fundamentally change the price/performance ratio of nanomaterials. It has been nano’s inability to deliver high performance at low cost that has impeded the wide adoption of these materials in common applications.

We want improved polymer composites with Xolve materials to be a fundamental part of your life!

GT: Lastly, where can people find out more information about Xolve and their latest news?

AC: The best place to start is at our website, where people can find the much more about our latest news and industry applications.

About Dr. Allen Clauss

Dr. Clauss holds a Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry from the University of Illinois, Urbana; he is a very experienced industrial chemist and development manager.

He previously served as a senior R&D manager for the Procter and Gamble Company where, in addition to other achievements, he established two of their R&D Centers in China.

His work at P&G gave him a wide range of experience in interfacial chemistry. Prior to joining Xolve, he taught at the University of Wisconsin.

He has numerous publications to his credit and holds eight patents 

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

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