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Packaging still relies heavily on plastics, glass, metal and paper to make a variety of containers. For example, market statistics from the American Plastics Council indicate that more than 50% of the 115 billion pounds of plastic production in North America was used in packaging consumer and institutional products in 2004. Within these packaging constants, innovation occurs with new materials and technology that reclaims used raw materials.
As raw material prices continue to increase, manufacturers are exploring nanotechnology as an avenue to defray costs while maintaining the quality and strength of the packaging. Similarly, as nanotechnology gains a larger market share, its cost effectiveness will increase. Nanotubes, nanoclays and nanocomposites in plastics offer a wealth of improved material performance, according to Intertech-Pira Corporation. The global consumption of nanocomposites has an estimated annual growth rate in excess of 22% through 2010, according to forecasts by BBC Research.
NaturalNano, Inc. is a nanotechnology company focused on extracting, classifying and commercializing naturally occurring nanomaterials. “Our initial technologies are based on naturally formed nanotubes found in halloysite clay,” said Michael Riedlinger, president, NaturalNano, Inc. Nanotubes add strength to polymers and biodegradable plastics and extend the effective use time of cosmetics, explained Riedlinger. Additionally, these tubes can be used to control oxidation within packaging, providing extended shelf life.
During a study at Cornell University, halloysite nanotubes were added to two commercially available polymer resins, appearing to perform as well as the most advanced clay composite materials available currently on the market, according to Cornell’s Emmanuel Giannelis, PhD.
Carbon nanotubes can be used as composite fibers in polymers to improve the mechanical, thermal and electrical properties of the bulk product, as well as increase the elastic modulus by 30%.