Nonwovens Industry sat down with Ladislav Mare�, executive director, and Stanislav Petrík, strategy and business development director, of Elmarco to discuss the company's trailblazing efforts in nanotechnology. With partnerships on both the roll goods and machinery side of the business, and a number of new technologies and applications in the works, it's clear how important nonwovens is to their efforts. For more on Nanotechnology and its role in nonwovens, see the November issue of Nonwovens Industry.
NWI:Please discuss Elmarco's offerings in the nanotechnology segment? What is this technology allowing your customers to achieve?
Elmarco offers to the market the industrial-scale equipment for effective, reliable, and low-cost mass production of nanofibers from organic polymers, biopolymers, and inorganic materials. These materials find applications in the fields like filtration (dramatically higher filtration efficiency with almost no decrease of filter permeability), biomedicine (wound care materials, drug delivery systems, scaffolds), energy storage and generation (high capacity ultra fast batteries for hybrid and electric cars, solar cells), car emissions solutions (new generation of catalyst), and many others. Today, hundreds of universities and research centers develop thousands of nanofiber applications. Elmarco's Nanospider technology facilitates the way of their results to commercialization and hence to real life.
NWI:In which markets are you seeing the most interest in nanotechnology? What is driving this trend?
Nanofibers are the most developed and well-defined nanomaterials bringing clear added value to the products in the fields named above. Most developed applications for them are air filters (in the market since more than ten years), and biomedical materials for wound care (being intensively commercialized now). But many other applications are in the stage of final prototyping. Availability of the production technology and equipment attracts investments into the applications.
NWI: How has nanotechnology impacted textiles/nonwovens industry? Do you see this as a growing area for your technology? What about filtration?
As mentioned, filtration is the first real and well proved application for nanofibers, especially the air filtration. This is followed by very intense developments in liquid filtration applications from biotechnology and pharmacy up to fuel and oil filters for cars. The texture of the nanofiber layers produced by Nanospider technology is very similar to typical nonwovens. Composite materials consisting of spunbond or meltblown and nanofiber layers can be e.g. extremely hydrophilic or hydrophobic - very attractive for hygiene products. There are projects focused on development of barrier nonwoven material which are breathable, but do not allow to pass microbes or chemicals (interesting for medical and military applications). Generally, the technical potential in this field is huge, however, economical issues are still challenging in the cost-driven nonwoven market.
NWI: Please describe your new organic nanotechnology lines? What need does this line fill? What are you customers looking to achieve through this?
Our new inorganic lines produce inorganic (or ceramic) nanofibers like TiO2, ZrO2, Al2O3, and many others. The heart of the line is still our proprietary nozzle-less electrospinning head known as Nanospider, but the technology process includes several other steps, like heat treatment of nanofiber precursors. Our researchers and engineers had to solve many challenging tasks related to chemical processes, productivity, and safety. We are happy that their effort led to the successful solution. There are many applications for inorganic nanofibers. To name a few: dye sensitized solar cells, batteries, composite materials, catalysts.
NWI: Does nanotechnology allow customers to better meet demands for green products?
Nanotechnologies, namely nanofibers, improve our environment in almost every of their applications: Effective highly permeable filters reduce pollutants, while the energy consumption connected with the need to force the air or liquid through them is much lower. Solar cells and batteries are directly related to the reduction of the use of fossil fuels. Catalysts, particulate filters, fuel and oil filters for cars improve combustion efficiency and reduce emissions. The list of possible contributions of nanofibers to make products more "green" would be very long.
NWI: Please discuss your partnerships with nonwovens companies including Avgol, on the roll goods side, and Oerlikon Neumag, on the machinery side? Are these partnerhips yielding real results? How important is the nonwovens industry in general to your business plan?
With Avgol, we agreed to go together in development of new materials and applications. The project has several stages, and is very ambitious, as we have to bring new properties to the nonwoven products for competitive price.
Our partnership with Oerlikon Neumag means that we offer together complete machinery solutions for those who want to produce nonwovens incorporating nanofibers. The first product of this kind was the nanofiber sound absorbing material, known as AcousticWebTM.
Generally, nonwoven industry plays a key role in our business plan. The potential need for our equipment there is huge.