By Elizabeth Gardner
Small Times Correspondent

April 15, 2002 — Nanocor Inc., a subsidiary of AMCOL International, is hanging its fortunes on the nanoscale properties of a special volcanic clay called montmorillonite, which under the right conditions flakes into sheets only 1 nanometer thick.

Properly treated and added to a polymer mixture in small quantities, the “nanoclay” can

Peter Maul

Vital facts about
Nanocor Inc.

produce plastics with all kinds of features that the originals don’t have — lighter weight, better scratch resistance, better barrier qualities (to keep freshness in and foreign gases out), and better flame retardance. Nanoclay may cost dollars per pound, whereas standard additives like talc cost cents, but it can be cost-competitive because less is needed, and in many cases it can lend properties to the finished product that no other additive can match.

Peter Maul, Nanocor’s president and a 19-year veteran of parent company AMCOL, saw huge potential in nanoclay when he was head of business development, and put it at the top of his list of opportunities. He got a chance to back his faith when AMCOL offered to make him the head of a subsidiary to develop the opportunity in 1995.

Nanocor is pursuing four different markets: packaging, transportation (including automotive), flame-retardant engineering resins and performance coatings. Its plant in Aberdeen, Miss., can produce 7 million pounds of nanoclay annually, though infrastructure is in place to allow it to ramp up to 100 million pounds if the demand is there. Business is building slowly due to the long research and development cycle in most parts of the plastics industry, but nanoclay applications are beginning to emerge from the lab.

In September 2000, Nanocor began supplying Honeywell Plastics with nanoclay for a line of packaging polymers under the Aegis brand name. While Honeywell isn’t divulging the names of its customers who are working on nanocomposite packaging, a spokeswoman says one is developing a plastic beer bottle and another is looking at a “stand-up pouch” of the kind that holds juice or microwaveable foods.

Nanocor also supplies nanoclay to German-based Bayer AG, which creates nanocomposite films for use in food packaging.

Earlier this year, Nanocor announced a partnership to sell its products in China, through Beijing Nano Sunshine Technology. “The Chinese automotive and packaging markets are growing rapidly and Chinese industry has great interest in plastic nanocomposite technology,” Maul said.

Nanocomposites researcher Thomas Pinnavaia of Michigan State University, whose group has provided research to Nanocor, says he has had his doubts about the long-term viability of the nanoclay business, but Nanocor’s continued existence is a reassuring sign. “The advantage of clays is that they’re cheap raw materials that you can purify easily,” he said. “The disadvantage is that there’s no universal modifier that will make them compatible with any polymer. You have to use separate modifiers for each one.”

Nanocor holds 29 patents on ways to treat nanoclay to bond with a variety of polymers, and has licensed several more from Toyota, which pioneered the use of nanocomposite nylon parts in engines.

James Morton, who follows the nanocomposites industry for Principia Partners, Exton, Pa., says the nanoclay industry has been plagued with false starts since the first patent was filed 20 or more years ago, but he expects it will eventually yield a whole new set of compounds for specialized uses.

“There’s still a lot of research that needs to be done on the material to get people comfortable about putting it into production,” he said. “And companies have to do the research themselves to know what works and doesn’t work for their application.”


COMPANY FILE: Nanocor Inc.
(last updated April 15, 2002)

Nanocor Inc.

Ticker symbol
Subsidiary of specialty mineral manufacturer AMCOL International (NYSE: ACO)

1350 W. Shure Dr.
Arlington Heights, IL 60004-7803
The company’s nanoclay manufacturing facility is located in Aberdeen, Miss.

Launched in 1995, after market research suggested that nanocomposites would be a burgeoning field. The company now holds 29 nanoparticle-related patents. It began formal production of nanoclays in 1998.

Manufacturer and supplier of nanoclays for the plastics industry. Nanocor focuses on serving the packaging, transportation, industrial and performance coating niches. Nanoclays improve resins’ strength, heat resistance and containment properties.

Top small tech related product
Nanomer: Polymer additives made out of chemically modified clay, used to turn standard plastic resins into nanocomposites.

Small tech used
Volcanic clay, whose natural form is flakes with high aspect ratio and a thickness of 1 nanometer, treated using a proprietary processes that allow the flakes to bind with various types of polymers and disperse evenly in a polymer mixture without clumping. The additive changes the characteristics of the plastic in areas such as weight, scratch resistance, barrier properties and flame retardance.

Peter Maul, president


Wholly owned subsidiary of AMCOL International

Strategic partners

  • Honeywell Plastics uses Nanocor’s nanocomposite technology and Nanomer grade materials in its Aegis product line.
  • In February 2002 Nanocor announced that Beijing Nano Sunshine Technology would serve as a sales and distribution partner for the Nanomer line.
  • Clariant Corp. agreed in November to supply Nanocor with masterbatches for use in joint manufacturing efforts for clients.
  • New Castle Industries and Nanocor announced in December 2001 that they would collaborate on development of equipment for nanocomposite production.
  • Nanocor holds a license for nylon nanocomposite technology developed at Toyota Central R&D Labs Inc.

    Slow adoption by polymer industry, long R&D cycle for product development among end users such as auto manufacturers and packaging companies, continuing development of synthetic nanocomposite additives that are not price-competitive now but may become so in the future.

    Southern Clay Products (U.S.), Sud Chemie Inc. (Germany), Kunimine Industries (Japan)

    Short-range: Get established in niche market areas and become self-supporting. Long-range: Move the technology into polymer products in other than niche areas.

    Why they’re in small tech
    “I had worked at AMCOL for 25 years and was the vice president of corporate business development,” says Peter Maul, president. “The nano project was part of that work. I thought it would be a winner and told the president it would be at the top of my list. Then he asked me if I wanted to run it as a company.”

    What keeps them up at night
    “The incredibly slow rate of development for our customers. Big resin producers move very slowly.”


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  • Phone: (847) 394-8844 or 888-NANO-633
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Recent news
    Firms lay financial foundation resting on nanoclay composites
    Nanocor supplies nanomaterials to Honeywell
    Nanocor to sell products in China


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