Interview conducted by Kal Kaur
Tim Ferland (Business Development Manager) and Aleksandr Rakitin (Applications Engineer) at ANF Technology Ltd. talk to AZoNano about alumina nanomaterial.
KK - Could you please provide a brief introduction to NAFEN and ANF Technology?
TF - ANF Technology Limited is a UK based company and was founded in 2010 by FPI Venture Capital—a specialist technology and engineering venture capital firm.
NAFEN™ is the brand name of ANF Technology’s aluminum oxide nano fibers, an exciting new product that offers the possibility for innovation across a number of major industry sectors.
NAFEN™ is produced in three forms: milled powders, matted fibers and co-aligned fiber blocks.
The material can be used as a performance enhancing additive in coatings, polymers, ceramics and other raw materials in order to boost critical physical properties in the end-product.
These include significant increases in wear resistance, tensile strength, compressive strength, ductility (flexibility), heat resistance—as well as radiation and chemical resistance—from adding as little as 0.5% of NAFEN™.
NAFEN™ is manufactured by ANF Technology Ltd in their production facilities in Tallinn, Estonia.
KK - How would you describe the company structure and corporate culture?
TF - ANF Technology is driven by a corporate culture that values discovery, innovation and open partnerships.
These beliefs lie at the core of what we do both as scientists and as a business. As a materials solutions specialist, ANF Technology partners with its customers in order to stay ahead of the curve and to keep improving its offering of next-generation products and services.
As a company, ANF Technology looks for professionals in the areas of science and business in order to grow the team of experts that can deliver on the company objectives and mission.
KK - What are the company’s growth strategies and objectives over the next 5 years?
TF - Within the next 5 years, it is ANF Technology’s objective to have established a stable chain of raw material clientele who utilize NAFEN™ as an integral component in their manufacturing processes.
Also within this period of time, we hope to have achieved partnerships with key industrial leaders in various advanced material sectors, who will work in tandem with us for the development of next-generation materials and product solutions.
We see NAFEN™ taking a lead role in the development of some very important areas, such as fuel cell and advanced battery production, not to mention the automotive and aerospace industries.
KK - What is the strategic business model that ANF Technology is using to develop the target markets it hopes to operate in as a raw material producer?
TF - ANF Technology Ltd has partnered with R&D teams from leading academic institutions that are focused on developing solutions to the challenges facing materials science businesses.
A benefit of this process is that we develop new tools and strategies for commercializing NAFEN™ applications in new markets.
Another very important part of our strategic business model is to develop strong relationships with R&D teams at leading companies within our target markets in order to get our product into their labs and tested according to their specific end-use application requirements.
We want customers to get hands-on experience with NAFEN™ so that they can be extremely confident buying into our technology.
This will help create long-term value in these partnerships, which will lead to long-term revenues as opposed to short-term profits.
The “try before you buy” model makes the most sense to both our customers and for our long-term vision of sustainability as a successful player in the market.
Regular, transparent corporate communication and media relations support this partnership-focused strategy as well as participation at conferences and industry trade shows.
KK - What are the physical and mechanical properties of NAFEN™?
AR - NAFEN™ has some very interesting physical and mechanical properties that make it an exciting product for materials solution engineers.
Regular ordered structure (co-aligned blocks of fibers)
Fiber length from 1mm to 150mm
Diameter from 5 to 50nm
Single crystal density of 3.98 g/cm3 (bulk density 0.1 to 0.4 g/m3)
Enormous surface area (155m2/g)
Saw-shaped surface with vacant aluminium bonds
No micro pores on the surface.
NAFEN™ Mechanical properties:
Thermal stability in Gamma phase at temperatures up to 1200°C
Single crystal Young Modulus of 427 GPa
Tensile strength of 40+ GPa
Active surface with vacant aluminum bonds
Easily wetted and 100% dispersed in liquids (water, alcohol, monomer, polymer)
No agglomeration when wetted
Heat conductivity close to that of air (0.025 W/m*K).
KK - What are the advantages of NAFEN™ compared to similar alumina nanofiber materials on the market?
AR - Whilst alumina nanomaterials in themselves are well known, NAFEN™ itself is a unique alumina nanofiber product due to a number of key differentiating factors.
Some of these are its enormous surface area (155m2/g), its unique saw-shaped surface with vacant aluminum bonds, its thermal conductivity (0.025 W/m*K) and its strength.
In addition to its highly versatile physical properties (mentioned above), it is the only type of alumina nanofiber material available on the market that offers consistent, superior-grade quality with the production capability to make large-volume industrial quantities at a commercially competitive price.
Until now, the absence of such a scalable and affordable high quality alumina nanomaterial has impeded product development and materials innovation. We are proud to present NAFEN™ as the solution to this problem.
As an enabling technology supporting industrial innovation, NAFEN™ could help its customers offer better performance, efficiency, quality and cost savings in their end-user materials applications.
Finally, our unique, patented production process cannot be reverse-engineered and is IP protected ensuring that that there is no other superior-grade alumina nanofiber available at such quality, quantity and price on the market today.
KK - Why is NAFEN™ the only high quality alumina nanofiber on the market that is produced in industrial quantities?
AR - ANF Technology has made great effort to ensure that the production methods for NAFEN™ are protected under international Patent Law.
With the IP of our synthesis methods protected, we have shut the door on potential “copy-cat” producers that would try to produce a facsimile material.
With an active pilot facility in place and unlimited scalability on top of current volumes, ANF Technology has ensured that it can meet the enormous market demand as awareness of NAFEN™ increases.
KK - How has ANF Technology’s industrialized production process affected NAFEN™ competitiveness in terms of sales price?
TF - Generally, it has provided the possibility to put alumina nanofibers in the hands of industries that previously could not have afforded it because of end-user pricing constraints.
It has also opened the door to many potential industries that have been looking for solutions to existing problems, but didn’t have access to the volume of material needed for their production.
In terms of pricing NAFEN™, several factors affect the end price for any given application. For NAFEN™ fibers, tailored pricing offers are provided for each client based on fiber diameter and length, packaging requirements, volume, etc.
For NAFEN™ powders, price is determined by particle size, volume and the dispersion requirements of the customer (dry or suspended in polymers, monomers, water or alcohol).
It should be noted that NAFEN™ is a superior-grade alumina material (99.7% pure alumina). It is a unique and elite brand material; therefore, our general pricing is set to reflect that fact.
That being said, our industrialization of the production of NAFEN™ has given us the possibility to bring that price to a level agreeable to the industries who can benefit the most from it because of the volumes of material they will incorporate into their manufacturing.
Our competitiveness, therefore, lies in the possibility to target and adjust prices based on the needs of the client and the volume of their purchasing power.
KK - What are the main areas of concern in the polymer composite industry and how will NAFEN™ help resolve them?
AR - The Polymer composite industry is highly fragmented and includes many smaller companies all providing individual pieces of the overall value chain. Where NAFEN™ fits into that system is vital to our success in this market.
We have developed testing partnerships with some of the key players in polymer-based manufacturing (e.g., filled polymers, polymer composites, paints/coatings, epoxies/adhesives, elastomers/rubber, etc.) and have positive expectations looking ahead based on R&D feedback.
Although the aerospace industry has been the biggest driver of polymer composite technical performance innovation, as broader based industries such as automotive and construction increase their demand for affordable polymer composite materials, cost will become a key factor and driver of market penetration.
For ANF Technology this represents a great opportunity since NAFEN™ can help reduce the manufacturing cycle time and bridge the performance/cost gap between high-end aerospace materials and broader- industrial based materials.
In addition to this, environmental regulation and Life Cycle Thinking (LCT) around sustainability and recycling has been highlighted as a key area of concern and interest for the polymer composite industry.
Key end-user applications where we expect to see increasing demand for NAFEN™ nanofiber performance boosting materials include fuel cell membranes in the energy sector, high temperature and chemically resistant industrial epoxies and adhesives, medical devices and construction materials as the construction industry starts to rebuild momentum.
We also expect to see some consolidation of the market through larger companies seeking technology acquisition through partnerships, alliances or M&A efforts aimed at securing a full tool kit of competencies and capabilities that enable the transition to next stage material technology.
In order to directly learn more about the issues affecting the polymer-based industries, ANF Technology will be participating in the SAMPE 2013 (Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering) annual conference in Long Beach, California in May of this year.
We hope to meet some of the leaders in this industry sector during our time there and we look forward to discussing NAFEN™ as a solution to those problems and as a key component of next generation materials.
KK - What are the main areas of concern in the advanced ceramics industry and how will NAFEN™ help resolve them?
AR - ANF Technology recently presented NAFEN™ at the ICACC 13 at Daytona Beach, Florida, USA. This gave us the opportunity to meet with and listen to many of the leading companies in the advanced ceramics sector.
The feedback we got was very positive and we have developed a number of key accounts in the field with advanced ceramics companies looking at materials solutions in applications ranging from aerospace to industrial kiln technology.
The chance to meet face to face with our target market was a great opportunity to find out first hand what concerns and developments our customers were looking at in this sector.
We were able to determine that solutions are needed to resolve fracturing/cracking of ceramics, deformation (creep) during the firing process, scratching/abrasion and degradation from chemicals or radiation.
NAFEN™ addresses each of these areas of concern. The hardness of NAFEN (9+ on the Mohs scale) creates a wear resistant barrier for the material.
The tensile and compressive strength of NAFEN™ adds ductility and reduce fracture resistance to the material. The thermal conductivity of NAFEN™ prevents the ceramic matrix from deforming during firing or reheating.
NAFEN™ is also chemically stable and resistant to degradation by chemicals and radiation (UV and X-Ray).
Research and development in product innovation is expected to drive new opportunities for advanced ceramics in the coming years as the global economy begins to move out of recession.
We expect that Ceramic Matrix Composites (CMC) will witness strong growth driven by increasing CMC usage in high temperature and high corrosion applications.
In this area NAFEN™ has excellent potential for significant market penetration due to its excellent performance as a thermal insulating composite material ingredient.
KK - What other main industrial application areas are targeted for NAFEN™?
TF - As a raw material ingredient NAFEN™ has a very wide range of end-use materials applications. As our research partnerships unlock new possibilities in new markets we examine the opportunity from a business development standpoint.
Our streamlined operation means we are able to adapt and respond to market opportunities from a number of industrial sectors.
Advanced ceramics and polymer composites are two areas where NAFEN™ is a highly sought-after product but we are also targeting and developing other markets that offer new and exciting ways for NAFEN™ to be utilised to good effect.
These include industrial, automotive and aviation paints and coatings, catalysis supports and carriers for petroleum and chemical processing, fuel cell technology and medical devices.
In fact anywhere where there is a need for a high-performance, large-volume material, we will be exploring NAFEN™ market potential.
KK - What steps has ANF Technology taken to ensure the integrity of the scientific claims of NAFEN’s physical characteristics? What scientific or academic partnerships have been created to investigate and validate these claims?
AR - ANF Technology has developed key research partnerships with the materials science departments at many of the leading European Universities and Institutes. These include Cambridge University (UK), Oxford University (UK), University of Grenoble (France), University of Twente (Netherlands), Boreskov Institute of Catalysts SB RAS (Russia), VILS (Russia), MISIS (Russia), Tallinn Technical University (Estonia) and the University of Tartu (Estonia).
We strive to be at the forefront of cutting-edge scientific discovery and these relationships are essential to that process.
They are also vital to our quality control process, giving us the chance to test the NAFEN™ product in laboratory conditions that replicate the extreme environmental conditions that industrial applications will demand.
The results support our claims for NAFEN™ physical and mechanical properties.
As research discoveries guide us to new possibilities for NAFEN™ performance in critical industrial applications we will publish this information as part of our communications dialogue with the wider scientific community.
KK - What will be the key NAFEN™-based solutions over the next decade and how do you see this technology progressing?
TF - Industry has been experimenting with a number of new products in recent years, searching for the next evolutionary step in materials development and solutions. For example, CNTs (Carbon Nanotubes) have failed to kick-start a revolution in industrial materials technology due to their high cost and difficult production processes.
Graphene is also being widely tipped as the holy grail of materials. Whilst Graphene does offer promise in materials development it doesn’t provide the ideal solution to all of the challenges facing end-use applications.
In particular its thermal conductivity means that it does not provide benefits to the area of the market where NAFEN™ has a great advantage.
In this respect, NAFEN™ will remain a key competitive advantage for many companies looking to unlock innovation for industrial-scale applications across a range of industry sectors.
Some of these include advanced ceramics and coatings for use in electronics and the medical/dental field; industrial-grade epoxies and adhesives for use in construction and industrial production (high-temperature, chemically or radioactively exposed areas); advanced battery components (e.g., battery separators for Lithium-Ion batteries); and polymer-based composite materials, paints and coatings for aerospace, automotive and construction.
KK - What industrial partnerships has ANF Technology developed up to this point and what other industrial leaders would you be interested in working with to achieve ANF Technology’s strategic objectives?
TF - We have developed key partnerships with a number of industrial players in a range of sectors where NAFEN™ has demonstrated its performance benefits and huge potential as a tool for future innovation.
Developing strategic partnerships with industry is absolutely fundamental to our businesses growth, long-term development and future success, so it is a top priority.
We currently have R&D partnerships with approximately 20 key companies, including major industrial multinationals in Paints and Coatings, Polymer Composites, Advanced and Medical Ceramics, Fuel Cell manufacturers, Electronics/Advanced Battery Systems and Thermal Insulation as well as growing interest from many other companies in these and other sectors.
We would be interested to develop more partnerships in each of these areas because each industry sector opens the door to another ten new opportunities that we had not considered.
The more partners we connect with, the greater depth of reach we can achieve for NAFEN™ in the market.
At some point, we would like to have market demand working from end-user to manufacturer, where a “NAFEN™ inside” claim would result in greater end-user demand for the products or materials.
About Tim Ferland
Tim Ferland is the Business Development Manager of ANF Technology Limited, responsible for the regions of North America and Western Europe. Mr. Ferland has more than 20 years of professional sales and marketing experience, 15 of which have been dedicated to companies focused on, or operating in the Baltic Countries.
Tim has worked at the executive management and board level within various business environments, including corporations, partnerships and the public sector. Mr. Ferland has also held executive management positions in global companies such as JELD-WEN, Inc. and in business associations including the American Chamber of Commerce in Estonia, where he was President from 2002-2005.
About Aleksandr Rakitin
Aleksandr Rakitin is the Applications Engineer at ANF Technology Ltd. Mr Rakitin comes from a rigorous scientific background, having graduated from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology with a PhD in Plasma Physics. His professional experience includes heading NEQLab Research, a Dutch innovation start-up, at its commercialization stage.
Aleksandr is currently Investment director at FPI, a seed and VC fund focused on growing high-tech companies with market disrupting business models and Applications Engineer at ANF Technology Ltd. where he leads commercialization strategy of the NAFEN™ brand of products and solutions.