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Graphene-POSS polymer additives enable lightweighting

By Scott Jenkins |

MITO Material Solutions (Indianapolis, Ind.; www.mitomaterials.com) has developed a proprietary graphene-functionalization technique that produces unique strength-enhancing additives for a wide variety of polymers and composites. The additives significantly improve mechanical properties (including tensile strength, flexural modulus and others) of the plastics and composites, allowing manufacturers to replace metals in a range of applications requiring high strength and light weight.

The additives are a class of modifiable compounds that combine polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane (POSS) — a silicon-oxide molecule with organic functional groups that was previously developed by Hybrid Plastics (Hattiesburg, Miss.; www.hybridplastics.com) — with either graphene-oxide (GO), a two-dimensional hexagonal lattice of carbon with oxygen functionalization on the edges, or starch. The combined graphene-POSS additive, known as E-GO, is the company’s first product and is now available for user testing. Other products are in development.

A major advantage of E-GO is its ability to mitigate dispersion-related problems, such as settling and agglomeration. The E-GO additive alleviates these shortfalls “by providing the proper interlayer spacing within the GO platelets, while providing the proper reactionary sites via our production processes,” explains MITO co-founder and CEO Haley Keith.

To manufacture the additives, MITO has developed a robust, high-yield proprietary process that was recently scaled from the laboratory to a contract manufacturing facility. The micron-scale powder additives are then mixed into polymer resins, where they reactively disperse into nanoscale particles that increase strength properties. “Integrating the highly dispersable additives into a manufacturing process is very easy without disrupting existing polymer processes, and it only takes 0.1% by weight concentrations of the additives to realize a significant improvement in mechanical properties,” says MITO chief engineer Kevin Keith, who founded the company with his wife, the CEO.

MITO additives enhance fiber-reinforced composites and thermoplastics from 30 to 135% beyond standard performance metrics, the co-founders say.

In late August, MITO announced $1 million in seed funding, led by two Chicago-based firms, Dipalo Ventures and Clean Energy Trust. The company is also supported by a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation.

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