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Nanofibres: From Finer Filters to Advances in Electronics, Energy and Medical Applications
published in Issue 74, 3rd quarter 2008
A nanofibre can be defined as a cylindrical structure with an outer diameter below 1,000 nm and an aspect ratio—the ratio between the fibre’s length and width—greater than 50. The market for nanofibres was worth an estimated US$62.5 mn in 2008, and is set to grow by 30% a year between 2008 and 2012. Growth is being driven largely by the use of nanofibres in nonwoven webs to provide more effective filters. Other potential applications for nanofibres include the electronics, medical and energy sectors. In the medical field there are numerous possibilities for using nanofibres in artificial organ components, tissue engineering and implants for delivering drugs. In the energy field, nanofibres could be used in the manufacture of solar cells and fuel cells.
One of the leading products is Ahlstrom’s Disruptor, a patented nanofibre technology licensed by the Argonide Corporation for use in water purification and other liquid filtration applications. DuPont Hybrid Membrane Technology (HMT) fills the gap between meltblown nonwovens and microporous films in filtration applications. Finetex was spun off from a South Korean university research project to develop electrospinning and now has three commercial nanofibre nonwoven lines running in the Philippines. Nanocomp Technologies has produced the largest ever cohesive sheets of carbon nanotube material. Other leading products include: a nanofibre version of m.doc wound dressing from Alltracel; Spider-Web and Ultra-Web from Donaldson; Nanoweb coating from Hollingsworth & Vose; CombiFil Nano from Johns Manville and FiberMark Gessner; Black Sophista and Kuralon EC from Kuraray; AHF and Ventcool from Mitsubishi Rayon; Nanofront, Morphotex and Tepyrus from Teijin; nanoMATRIX from Toray; and Moiscare from Toyobo. Leading manufacturing technologies include Nanospider from the Czech company Elmarco, Nanoval from the German company Nanoval, Integrated Nanofibre Technology from the German company Irema, and a meltblown technology for producing nanofibres from Hills in the USA.
At present most nanofibre production is carried out using an electrospinning process. But this has limitations in terms of speed, and a number of companies are working to develop technologies which could be more effective on a commercial scale.
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