Tiny technology could be big business for Enterprize finalist

14 Oct 2009
Super-strong carbon nanotubes could snag Oak Carbon $100,000 in the 2009 UQ Business School Enterprize competition. The microscopic tubules are set to make improvements to a wide range of everyday items such as golf clubs, tennis racquets, bulletproof fabric, and batteries, creating lightweight items with increased strength and efficiency. Oscar Dunens, of Oak Carbon, said their product stemmed from a chemical engineering research project conducted at the University of Sydney. "Our lab, the Laboratory for Sustainable Technology, has been conducting research into carbon nanotubes for the last 5 years," he said. "The past couple of years we have been focusing on using microwave technology for purification and quality improvement and have had outstanding results. We can now make higher quality product faster and at lower cost." "Macroscopically it looks like soot, but it's actually cylinders of carbon around 50 thousand times smaller than a human hair. These carbon cylinders, called nanotubes, are some of the strongest materials currently known," Mr Dunens said. "In the not too distant future carbon nanotubes will be used in everyday products from lightweight high strength building materials, to lighter and more efficient batteries. "They can be used to make bullet-proof fabric, make plastics lighter and stronger, and can conduct electricity - NASA has even looked into building an elevator to space with them. They also have huge potential for use in energy applications including fuel cells and solar panels. The potential applications for this product are endless." With an ultimate aim to market their products to large-scale applications developers such as DuPont and 3M, Mr Dunens said Oak Carbon is narrowing their potentially expansive product area to 'making products for the composite materials and energy markets'. "For composite materials we are focusing on supplying carbon nanotubes for carbon nanotube fabrics and high strength lightweight plastics. For the energy markets batteries, fuel cells, and supercapacitors," he said. But what really sets Oak Carbon apart from the competition when it comes to carbon nanotubes? According to Mr Dunens, it is their ability to create the nanotubes in considerable quantities without compromising on quality. "Other carbon nanotube manufacturers can either make large-quantities of average quality carbon nanotubes, or high-quality nanotubes in small quantities using unscaleable technology," he said. "We have developed technology to produce high quality nanotubes in large-scale. This gives us considerable competitive advantage." Sydney-based Oak Carbon is one of seven finalists in the UQ Business School's lucrative nation-wide Enterprize competition, now in its ninth year. Mr Dunens said competitions like Enterprize were 'very important' for up-and-coming businesses. "Enterprize provides helpful feedback from experts and judges on all aspects of your business plan, and provides motivation to really think in detail about the fundamentals of your business strategy," he said. Winning the competition would provide further benefits for Oak Carbon, allowing them to expand their production and protect their intellectual property. "It will really help to get our name out into the public domain and also provide an opportunity to raise additional capital for a carbon nanotube pilot facility. The prize money will be used to assist with IP protection," Mr Dunens said.