Big changes on a nano scale

Hayley Everett

Antoine Saucier discusses the potential of revolutionary VACNT technology while reiterating why high-level engineering is always front and centre of mind.

Following a meticulous research and development undertaking that has spanned more than a decade, NAWA Technologies is now in the process of industrialisation, with our pioneering Vertically Aligned Carbon Nanotubes (VACNT) technology set to positively impact key global industries. But before I outline how our relentless pursuit for innovation will shape tomorrow’s sustainable world, it’s important to start on the inside – who is NAWA?

We pride ourselves on being engineering-driven, a matter in point that will resonate with the audience of International Design Engineer. In fact, I’d go as far to say that state-of-the-art engineering lies at the very heart of NAWA. Our family is 75 strong – and includes some of the world’s finest engineers across the entire engineering spectrum – who have helped us to secure no fewer than 26 patent families. The fact that it’s this engineering ethos that challenges and drives us is an important point, because I believe there are too many organisations that make headline-grabbing claims but then can’t stand the test of scrutiny. Scratch the surface of many of these visions and it becomes apparent quickly they are merely concepts, ideas and mission statements.

The big questions

So, the obvious two key questions are: ‘what is it that we claim to do?’ and ‘how can we substantiate those claims?’ We have optimised a revolutionary 3D carbon-based nano-material that enables breakthrough performance improvements across multiple application domains from energy storage and fuel cell stacks through to advanced composites.

What are nanotubes? Well, essentially very tall and very thin columns, but because they are at nano scale we can arrange them vertically – much like a toothbrush head – but billions of times over, creating a carpet-like design.

In composites, VACNT act like a ‘nano-velcro’, solving one of the biggest issues with common composites: interlaminar cracking or delamination. Applied as a thin film that contains trillions of VACNT - which we call ‘NAWAStitch’ - between the layers of carbon fibre, our technology reinforces the weakest parts of the composite. Tests have shown that NAWAStitch can create a composite with a 900% increase in impact damage tolerance, while also offering a 20-30% reduction in weight.

Applications are multiple, but in the sports equipment world that might be the side frame of a tennis racquet or the tip of a golf club. By making composites ultra-strong, our technology delivers increased strength by a factor of 100 and shock resistance enhancement by a factor of 10. This solution also greatly improves subsystems for aerospace and aviation. For example, the game-changing properties of our technology can bring anti-icing and de-icing benefits, alongside structural health monitoring or even structural energy storage, giving a composite component in this industry multifunctional capabilities.

So, in effect, you get a lighter, stronger, more advanced composite.

Positive ripple effects will also be felt in automotive, where our nano-material’s innovative combination of greater strength combined with the ability to carry electric current can be applied to next-generation composite electric vehicle battery casings. These will not only be stronger and safer, but because VACNT can carry an electrical current, they offer the ability to keep the battery at a constant temperature, avoiding the requirement for additional thermal management, therefore helping to prolong the performance and life of the cells inside.

Hydrogen fuel cell impact

VACNT can also be used in next-generation hydrogen fuel cell catalysts, where they boost performance of the platinum catalyst. In fact, we have just facilitated some preliminary testing of the technology and I can reveal the results are phenomenal. This cutting-edge 3D nanoscale solution, based on high permeability channels, results in improved lifetime, less use of platinum or enhanced power at constant M².

In the coming months we’ll be able to share the full fundings of our test program but, suffice to say, the opportunities resulting from this piece of NAWA R&D for manufacturers of heavy vehicles, such as trucks and buses, are huge.

Having spent, day after day, perfecting our vision and optimising our technologies, NAWA stands on the cusp of something truly great. In a world where big changes are being promised every day, it’s our nano technology that offers the greatest potential in the spaces it operates within.

Antoine Saucier is the CEO of NAWA Technologies