Nanocomposites development has reached an interesting place. The novel properties of nanotechnology are propelling advances in the composites market even as technical challenges and cost issues persist.

Recent advances are easy to find. For example, MIT researchers earlier this year announced that they have devised a way to mimic the strong, yet stretchy properties of spider silk using polymeric nanocomposites. Tear-resistant fabrics and tougher packaging materials are but two of the potential uses for this new material. Life sciences firm DuPont continues its research and development of thermoplastic nanocomposites that it says present opportunities for lighter-weight and higher-performing materials. And the American Dental Association is exploring the potential of nanotechnology to produce fillings that are stronger than any available today.

Still, the global nanocomposites market remains small, yet growing. It earned revenues of $33.7 million in 2006, according to consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, which estimates the market could reach $144.6 million in 2013.

MIT researchers develop a strong, stretchy nanocomposite.
The consultancy says high prices of nanoparticles, including nanotubes and nanofibers, are deterring growth. Both unit prices and total cost of use must come down before nanocomposites become viable in high-volume markets.

Additionally, even as research continues, so too do technical issues. Frost & Sullivan points to the dispersion of nanoparticles in nonpolar resins as one example.

Yet, "the entry of new participants and the additional capacity they generate has the potential to bring down prices and drive up volumes in the world nanocomposites market," says Frost & Sullivan analyst Hariharan Ramasubramanian. "The industry will also benefit from the infusion of novel technologies by these new entrants."

A calcium phosphate nanocomposite filling.
Taking the industry from the lab to the marketplace remains a challenge for suppliers in the nanocomposites market, the analyst says, noting "suppliers have found it difficult to replicate their successes in the lab to large-scale production lines."

The analyst firm says to achieve market success, companies should create alliances and build strong relationships across the entire supply chain, from nanoparticle producers to end users.

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