New Hampshire Startup Makes World’s Largest Sheets of Carbon Nanotubes
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they don’t conduct electricity. Adding conductive cables made of his nanotubes to the bodies of airplanes would channel the energy from lightning strikes around sensitive electronic equipment without adding much weight. And running electricity through them on the ground could heat them up and de-ice the aircraft.
It’s the light weight of carbon nanotube wires—only about 20 percent of the weight of the same volume of copper wire—that could make them especially attractive for the aerospace industry. “1850s copper wire is still the conductor of all our satellites, all our aircraft,” Antoinette says. If using nanotubes could cut the weight of two tons of copper wire in a 747 in half, he says, “you’re talking literally millions of dollars of savings in fuel costs” over the life of an airplane.
Nanocomp has already been qualified as a vendor by Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. The company is shipping evaluation quantities of its material to them and others for testing in various uses. Once Nanocomp gets to 100-square-foot sheets, the company will decide whether it wants to continue to scale up the size or to build more machines to ramp up production. Antoinette expects to have a pilot plant running by 2010, with full-scale production by 2012.
The production process was developed by David Lashmore, a co-founder of Nanocomp and now chief technology officer. The other co-founder was Robert Dean, a former engineering professor at Dartmouth who started Synergy Innovations, a high-tech incubator in Lebanon, NH, where Lashmore was working when he and Antoinette met. They incorporated the company in June of 2004, initially funding it with their own money and a grant from the Office of Naval Research. The U.S. Army gave them a $2.5 million contract to develop carbon nanotubes as a material to strengthen body armor, and they’ve also received a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the Air Force. CEI Community Ventures of Portland, ME, provided a $1.5 million Series A financing round, and Antoinette is currently trying to raise $6 million in a Series B round.
The company has filed for 16 patents, with maybe a half dozen more in the works. Just to be sure they have the freedom to use it without fear of infringement, Antoinette says, the company signed a non-exclusive license with IBM for Big Blue’s process for making single-walled carbon nanotubes.
Antoinette admits to having drunk his own Kool-Aid on the prospects for his company, but insists that outside people seem sold on it too. “We’re excited because Fortune 100 companies are telling us we’re the most advanced thing they’ve seen,” he says.