By Kate Tilley, Plastics News Correspondent
Brisbane, Australia -- A nanotechnology company has launched a nanocomposite thermoplastic polyurethane for use in seals to increase pump operating times and lower end users' costs.
Brisbane, Australia-based TenasiTech Pty Ltd commercialises strong, stable and flexible TPUs. It was founded in 2007 by UniQuest Pty. Ltd., the University of Queensland's key commercialization company, after nine years of on-campus research and development. TenasiTech has exclusive worldwide rights to the technology it has developed.
Performance gains from the nano-additives offer the potential for longer usage before potential failure and can push TPU operating temperatures higher - "a historical weakness for this class of polymer," said TenasiTech managing director Richard Marshall. He said TenasiTech can produce the new TPU at an industrial scale, a competitive price and in a way that fits within the existing polymer supply chain.
"We have partners in the Northern Hemisphere for applications other than seals, but are actively seeking a partner to develop [seals]," he said.
Darren Martin, chief scientific officer, said the dramatic improvements did not significantly change flexibility, hardness or clarity relative to a comparable polymer. "This puts us out in front of any competing solutions," he added.
TenasiTech has developed other TPUs with applications ranging from biomedical devices and industrial components to sports footwear and golf balls. While high strengths can be achieved with conventional materials, it is at the expense of flexibility and softness, according to the company. TenasiTech's elastomer allows strength and stability to be increased while preserving flexibility, it said.
Martin, who is also a group leader with UQ's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, is also conducting research into creating renewable polymers and composites based on resin from a native Australian grass.
Spinifex grasses had been largely ignored as a sustainable resource despite their widespread distribution throughout Australia and unique biology that had evolved in harsh environments, Martin said. The research project examines Spinifex grass's material properties and sustainable applications, specifically for use in new building industry applications. Potentially, researchers hope to replicate the Spinifex resin into a synthesised bio-mimetic material.
"Some species of Spinifex exude resins that have interesting properties. Indigenous Australians have used the resins for thousands of years as an adhesive or a sealant. In effect, we are trying to learn from them," Martin said.
Spinifex resin is a thermoplastic material so it can be heated to replicate putty. "By acting like a natural glue, the resin could replace synthetic resins in the building industry altogether."
Although the research is in its early stages, he is confident the resin can be broken down and reformed to create polyethylene or epoxy resin. The project is in its third year of a five-year Australian Research Council-funded grant. "Spinifex resins literally have thousands of compounds so we're only at the start of identifying them and seeing how they act at different temperatures," he said.