Marine Nano-Composites: An Interview with Lance Criscuolo of Zyvex Technologies

Zyvex Marine is the premier provider of carbon fiber nano-composites vessels and components for marine applications. They are a division of Zyvex Technologies, the first company to commercialize carbon nanotube applications.

Nanotechnology and nanomaterials have been spoken about for quite some time now, with many potential applications yet to leave the lab. While there are some real world applications utilizing them, their number still remains relatively small.

AZoNano's Cameron Chai speaks to Lance Criscuolo, CEO of Zyvex Technologies about their materials and vessels, including the recently launched LRV-17 Long Range Vessel.

The LRV-17 long-range unmanned vessel from Zyvex Marine, built using carbon fiber nano-composites.

CC: Zyvex Marine uses Arovex, a “carbon fiber nano-composite” in the construction of its striking boats. Can you describe for us what these materials are and how they differ from conventional composite materials used in marine applications?

LC: Our customers ultimately determine the commercial viability of our products. Make something they want, that delivers real benefits, and then impeccably service them so they stay with you. This is our secret. Today Zyvex is an application-focused, instead of a nanotube-focused, company.

Boat designers and manufacturers benefit from a carbon fiber technology such as Arovex®, because it provides a stiff, tough, durable composite material that is lighter in weight. Traditional aluminum and steel don’t offer these combined attributes. Fractures are always a concern for conventional composites and the carbon nanotubes inside of Arovex deliver greater resistance to cracks – allowing these vessels to exhibit the durability required for challenging ocean environments.

Large structures like boats greatly benefit from new technology. An agreement signed this year with Airbus is looking at where the technology can be useful in next-generation aircraft, specifically lighter parts, as well as giving the composite material some electrical conductivity.

Arovex could be used for added stiffness and high abrasion resistance for jet engines to help enhance its erosion resistance from the effects of hail, sand, and dust exposure without adding any additional weight that would be required if traditional carbon fiber systems are being used.

CC: The epoxy resin used to make your composites is called Epovex. Can you tell us about this resin and Kentera technology?

LC: Repair and maintenance applications demonstrate the power of nanomaterial-engineered products. With a bonding strength stronger than welding, Epovex Adhesive allows rapid repair and maintenance of products with the confidence of the latest in materials technology.

Epovex is a structural adhesive for carbon fiber. Combining Epovex and the use of Kentera™ polymer technology allows nanotubes and graphene to become compatible with each other and the host matrix. Introduced in 2010, it provides superior bonding strength due to carbon nanotubes in the two-part epoxy adhesive. It works very well in a variety of settings and has been used to repair Genoa Racing ALMS cars, which last year in the Baltimore Grand Prix posted the fastest lap of the session until it was forced to watch while the team made repairs overnight. The car was ready to go again in the morning, never missing a beat and finishing the 2011 session on top of the LMPC class.

CC: What advantages do your materials have over conventional materials used in boat building such as fiberglass and aluminum?

LC: From the performance aspect, it is all about the weight and fuel efficiency of the vessel. A heavy fibreglass or aluminium hull will require larger, heavier engines and in turn a spiral of additional weight in support structures.

A lightweight hull can also allow the selection of smaller engines while still delivering the desired range/speed characteristics required. From a manufacturing perspective, we’re also discovering greater labor efficiencies and improved consistency in manufacturing quality.

Despite being the dominant materials of choice in the marine industry, fibreglass and aluminium leave much to be desired when it comes to quality and reliability. Our facility looks more aerospace than boat yard and the products reflect that higher standard.

CC: What have been the benefits of the addition of carbon nanotubes to carbon fiber composites? And are you aware of anyone else using these materials in boat building?

LC: Our nano-enhanced carbon fiber technology, which is a carbon-nanotube (CNT) and graphene-engineered composite material, is making strong headway into a slew of different industries, including aerospace, sporting goods, marine, automotive, and energy, making products more durable without compromising stiffness, which is a big advantage. We are not aware of anyone else using CNTs in the scale we are using them in boat building - yet.

CC: From a boat-building perspective, is the process of constructing a vessel from your carbon-fiber nano-composite different from constructing a vessel from more conventional materials such as fiberglass?

LC: In some aspects, yes – the manufacturing of the hull, deck, and other structural components requires an entirely different approach, tooling, and labor force. For us, it’s an advantage to keep the conventional competitors away because they are typically reluctant to make any changes.

However, the integration of the vessel with engines, and other components, as well as the operation of the vessel are identical to any other vessel on the water. An operator or engine service technician would have no idea that he or she was working on a vessel built with 21st century materials (until they noticed the fuel consumption of course!)

CC: Auto makers are all looking to use lighter materials in construction to reduce weight and improve fuel economy. The carbon fiber nano-composite you employ offers increased strength to weigh ratios over other materials. Has this also translated to weight savings and economy gains?

LC: It’s important to recognize that the best way to take advantage of weight savings is to also engineer the corresponding systems accordingly, smaller engines, etc. Yes, we have reduced the weight considerably on our watercraft and then demonstrated the greatest efficiencies by using an engine with fewer HP.

While we participate in some automotive projects, I’m typically fascinated with the obsession on engine size and HP in the automotive industry. Until automotive customers really demand fuel efficiency, composites have a way to go in automotive applications.

CC: Does the addition of carbon nanotubes to your construction material add much to the cost?

LC: We have been told by our customers that our advanced carbon nanomaterials technology allows them to reach the cutting edge of weight and durability requirements.

Some products made with our technologies are designed to withstand a lot of damage which in the past could affect performance and durability. Carbon has brought the weight down which leads to other gains such as fuel efficiencies while not compromising durability. There are additional costs but the benefits appear to outweigh them, particularly when one of our customers’ phones was tied up for weeks with new interest and more orders once they released the technical advantages and test data.

One opportunity I’d like to take is to dispel the myth that a CNT-composite vessel must have hundreds of thousands of dollars of CNTs involved. We use an incredibly small about of CNT material to deliver performance improvements – often with resin loadings of less than 1%. CNTs aren’t adding costs that are roadblocks to further adoption – our biggest hurdles are always in convincing larger companies to change the way they think, design, and use materials.

CC: The use of carbon fiber composites in cars is gradually becoming more common. Do you think other boat builders will follow Zyvex Marine and will boats built from materials like carbon-fiber nano-composites beome more common place in the future?

LC: In the marine industry, we partnered with Pacific Coast Marine to replace doors and hatches with Arovex on military vessels and commercial vessels where traditionally aluminum and steel were used. The result has been a dramatic reduction in weight where a 150-pound door is being replaced by an Arovex door that only weighs 50 pounds.

One advantage of the technology is that you can start replacing metal components with Arovex components and lighten the entire structure.

We’re a small and agile company – it might take a while for bigger ship yards to build vessels entirely out of nanocomposites and we’ll be more than happy to supply them Arovex panels and other components to be used as doors, hatches, and other secondary structures.

CC: Some of the boats that you build are designed to be “unmanned”. Why do people want unmanned vessels?

LC: There are many reasons why unmanned boats are desirable. Think of piracy concerns, particularly off the coast of Africa, that while easing in some areas are also opening in new ones.

The security and safety of our troops and our citizens are reasons for having unmanned vessels that never ‘tire’ and can operate remotely and for thousands of miles before needing to refuel due to the light weight nature of the unmanned vessels made with CNTs. The operational opportunities and safety solutions are countless.

CC: Although you have been around since 2007, Zyvex Marine delivered its first production vessel in 2011. Are you seeing much demand for your boats and do you think it is your designs or materials technology that give you an advantage over your competition, or is it a combination of both?

LC: The history of the technology and the company really dates back to 1997 when we were founded in Texas. The materials group spun out in 2007, leveraging over 20 patents, to focus on better materials using CNTs.

We supplied marine customers with our materials between 2007 and 2011 and continue to do so today. However, we faced reluctance from bigger potential customers, so we decided to do it ourselves and compete with them using our technology AND design as an advantage.

We have an incredibly talented team, from the engineers to the production staff on the floor – put the world’s best materials in their hands and it gives us a tremendous advantage over any competitor.

CC: Thanks for your time Lance. We look forward to hearing more about Zyvex Marine and your innovative vessels in the future, as well as obviously the increased adoption of nanotechnology in real world applications.

Date Added: Oct 12, 2012 | Updated: Feb 21, 2013
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