CNET News.com published an article today about NaturalNano, a New York nanotech company that has taken the unique approach of using clay as a carrier in it’s nanotube applications. Halloysite is a naturally occurring clay mineral made up of primarily aluminum, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen. Historically used for making porcelain, bone and fine china, researchers in the 50’s discovered it’s particles were tube shaped which is why NaturalNano is focusing on it as a relatively cheap yet effective alternative to synthetic, carbon nanotubes.
Halloysite tubes are about 40 to 200 nanometers in diameter and roughly one micron long. Although the mineral appears naturally and can be mined in great quantities, the Halloysite is not easily separated from the other minerals intermixed in the raw clay including dickite, kaolin, and montmorillonite. NaturalNano has developed a process which they are patenting for extracting the Halloysite nanotubes and preparing them for manufacturing.
The initial applications for their product are more mundane than the sexier, semi-conducter centered goals of their nanotech rivals. One project involves the clay tubes being injected with copper and mixed into a polymer to make plastic that conducts electricity. The tubes could also be filled with fungicides to create mildew-resistent paints. Or, they may even be used in a time-released deodorant.
Regular carbon nanotubes are created in a laboratory and can cost upwards of $250 per gram. NaturalNano gets it’s raw clay from Utah, and even after the extraction process expects that the price per pound of the production-ready Halloysite tubes will be between $3 and $20. The company is preparing to IPO before the end of the year.