Hybrid Plastics’ nanomaterials: From inner molars to outer space

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Oct. 28, 2002 — Hybrid Plastics of Fountain Valley, Calif., is working with several partners to roll out a rather impressive little molecule with a plethora of possible applications.

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In August, Pentron Corp., a dental supply firm, announced a dental bonding agent called NanoBond, based on Hybrid Plastics’ technology. Similar announcements are expected from others developing applications in several fields, says Carl Hagstrom, Hybrid’s chief operating officer.

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While many nanotechnology companies focus on reducing particle sizes, Hybrid Plastics’ products are based on molecular-level chemistry. Called Polyhedral Oligomeric Silsesquioxanes, which the company shortened to POSS, the product is the first new chemical feedstock to be introduced since DuPont launched Kevlar in 1965, Hagstrom said. POSS molecules average about 1.5 nanometers in three dimensions.

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Samples of nine different POSS composites orbited the earth in a test capsule attached to the International Space Station as part of a 14-month joint NASA-Air Force program seeking materials to replace conventional plastics, which degrade quickly in space. Scientists found that polymers with the POSS components form a ceramic shell and withstand radiation bombardment at least 10 times longer than other materials.

There appears to be no direct competitors using the same molecular-level approach, according to former securities analyst Doug Moffat, who formerly covered nanotechnology for Robinson Humphrey. “I don’t think there is any other competition doing exactly what they’re doing in composite POSS materials,” he said. Moffat is launching an investment bank to help nanotech firms.

The competition lies in existing materials, such as organo fillers and organoclays already on the market. But organoclays have clumping problems and require specialized manufacturing equipment. “The POSS materials don’t have a lot of those issues. I think they’ve gotten good traction and early-stage acceptance because of that,” Moffat said.

General Electric Co. discovered the POSS molecule in the 1960s, but it wasn’t until Joseph D. Lichtenhan began exploring it in research for the Air Force laboratories at Edwards Air Force Base that development work began. In 1998, Lichtenhan and one of his colleagues, Joseph Schwab, licensed the technology and launched Hybrid Plastics with a $2-million National Institute of Standards and Technology Advanced Technology Program grant.

Hybrid Plastics is marketing POSS nanomaterials for their ability to increase strength and heat resistance and retard flammability when combined with a variety of plastics and polymers. POSS molecules require no special equipment or processes to be added to existing manufacturing processes, according to Hagstrom. While solvents are used in their initial manufacture, they are “green” materials that emit no volatile organic compounds. The materials are currently made from silanes, a commodity precursor in the silicone manufacturing process. Eventually, Hagstrom says, POSS molecules will be made directly from sand, reducing the need for petroleum-based materials in many plastic products.

The challenge is to reduce manufacturing time and costs. The first POSS feedstocks cost $5,000 a pound and took three months to make. Hybrid Plastics has reduced costs to as little as $50 per pound, depending on the level of customization required. Some compounds can be produced in just a few days. While prices are still too high for POSS materials to be marketed as commodities, Hagstrom thinks that will change as the company achieves economies of scale. “We got to the point last year where we were reaching price points that were commercially viable,” he said. Hybrid is currently looking to set up a rollout manufacturing facility and technical support center.

In 1998, Hybrid Plastics launched with six products. Today, it lists more than 150 formulations for uses from cosmetics to new-generation plastics that are stronger, lighter and more heat-resistant than their predecessors. In a study conducted with the Anderson School of Business at the University of California, Los Angeles, electronics, aerospace and membranes were identified as holding the most commercial opportunities for Hybrid’s materials. The company is currently working with several electronics firms, Hagstrom said.

So many directions can be both good and bad, said nanomaterials consultant Neil Gordon, a partner at Sygertech Inc. in Montreal. Companies with lots of possible applications “need to go after the low-hanging fruit,” he said. Hybrid Plastics needs to pursue opportunities that will generate significant, sustainable revenue streams to demonstrate its viability, Gordon said.

Today the federal government and the R&D chemical market are Hybrid Plastics’ largest customers. They have spent around $15 million over the last decade to develop POSS technology.

Moffat has talked to some of Hybrid Plastics’ potential customers, and he thinks the commercial opportunities are there. “There were some real exciting market opportunities that are sizable in nature,” he said. “It was very encouraging early-stage product development.”


Company file: Hybrid Plastics.
(last updated Oct. 28, 2002)

Hybrid Plastics

18237 Mt. Baldy Circle
Fountain Valley, Calif. 92708-6117

Hybrid Plastics was a spinoff from the U.S. Air Force Research Labs, where Joseph D. Lichtenhan was studying POSS molecules. The company was launched in 1998 by Lichtenhan and Joseph J. Schwab, who licensed existing POSS technology and funded the startup using a $2 million NIST ATP grant. Begun with six products, Hybrid Plastics’ portfolio now features more than 150 formulations. Hybrid Plastics has won several industry awards; one came from R&D Magazine, which in 2000 named the company’s POSS nanochemicals one of the year’s 100 products with the greatest technological significance.



Small tech-related products and services
Hybrid Plastics develops technologies based on molecular chemistry. The company’s Polyhedral Oligomeric Silsesquioxanes (POSS) molecules are hybrid organic-inorganic nanostructures averaging 1.5 nanometers in diameter. In combination with plastics or polymers, POSS-based nanochemicals improve strength and heat resistance properties while reducing flammability.


  • Joseph Lichtenhan: co-founder, president and chief executive officer
  • Carl Hagstrom: vice president and chief operating officer
  • Joseph J. Schwab: co-founder, vice president and chief technology officer.

    Selected strategic partners and customers

  • University of California
  • U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory
  • U. S. Navy
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
  • Investment history
    Original company funding came from NIST

    Barriers to market
    Manufacturing of POSS materials is time-intensive and costly; the company is marketing its products during a general economic slowdown; it may be difficult to determine which markets provide the most potentially lucrative revenue streams.

    Short-range: Further reduce the manufacturing cost and time and to roll out more commercial applications. Long-range: Produce products from sand instead of silane; achieve further economies of scale through larger-scale manufacturing.

    What keeps them up at night
    Meeting expanding customer demand and technical support for customer base.


  • URL: www.hybridplastics.com
  • Phone: 714-962-0303
  • Fax: 714-962-4024
  • E-mail: [email protected]

    Selected relevant patents

  • Preceramic additives as fire retardants for plastics
  • Functionalizing olefin bearing silsesquioxanes
  • Process for preparation of polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxanes and synthesis of polymers containing polyhedral oligomeric silsesqioxane group segments
  • Recent news and publications
    Hybrid Plastics names Tomen as Japan distributor
    Hybrid Plastics bites into dental market
    Larta: Top 10 nanotechnology companies

    — Research by Gretchen McNeely


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