Center installed at BH-Tec will act as a bridge between academia and industry in the search for solutions in the field of nanotechnology
The development of technologies that allow for the production of nanomaterials on a large scale – with the preservation of the properties of the product obtained in the laboratory and guarantees of commercial viability (cost reduction and process optimization) – is one of the challenges taken up by the Center for Technology in Nanomaterials and Grafeno (CTNano), whose headquarters were inaugurated on the last April 16th, at the Technological Park of Belo Horizonte (BH-Tec).
“The Center is a bridge between academia and industry, which demands technological solutions capable of responding to growing social challenges” says physicist Marcos Pimenta, who coordinates the project. These demands include production of carbon nanotubes, graphene, nanoscale polymers and nanostructured cement, characterization and metrology for quality control and development of safety protocols for use and production of nanomaterials (read here in Portuguese).
All CTNano’s areas of action are at the frontier of knowledge and can provide technologies to reduce the imports of products with high added value, which certainly is one of the weaknesses of the Brazilian economy. The four-stage building houses a nanomaterials production plant, as well as laboratories for the work of research groups led by nine UFMG professors from the areas of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Civil Engineering.
“We do not have a factory here, but pilot plants for the production of graphene and carbon nanotubes in which we seek to dominate the scaling process,” explains Marcos Pimenta, professor at the Department of Physics and coordinator of the National Institute of Science and Technology (INCT) of Carbon Nanomaterials. CTNano can produce today about one kilogram of carbon nanotubes per day, the amount used in the Center’s experiments. “We are the biggest pole of technology development in graphene of Brazil”, emphasizes professor Pimenta.
The initiative, first of its kind in Brazil and a result of a university / company arrangements, is supported by BH-Tec and the Government of the State of Minas Gerais, and has a non-refundable R$ 36 million (around US$ 9 million) financing from four sources: the Technological Fund project (Funtec), the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES), Petrobras and InterCement. The construction of the building and CTNano’s projects are managed by the Research Development Foundation (Fundep).
Funtec financially supports projects that stimulate technological development and innovation of strategic interest to the country. With Petrobras, the contract foresees the development of advanced polymers that can be used in explorations on offshore platforms.
All CTNano’s fronts are at the frontier of knowledge and can provide technologies to reduce the importation of products of high added value, which is one of the weaknesses of the Brazilian economy.
As Professor Glaura Silva of the Department of Chemistry points out, despite their essentially metallic appearance, the platforms need rubbers, adhesives and other highly resistant polymeric coatings, such as epoxy and polyurethane. “The objective is to improve the mechanical and thermal properties of these polymers because of aggressive demands in environments such as pre-salt exploration, where there are high pressures and very abrupt variations in temperature,” explains Glaura, who coordinates this line of investigation.
The partnership with InterCement enables the development of researches related to the production of nanostructured cement, a type of nanocomposite whose synthesis was based on an unprecedented route and was patented in Brazil and abroad. This line of investigation is coordinated by professors Luis Orlando Ladeira of the Department of Physics and José Márcio Calixto of the Department of Structural Engineering.
CROSSING THE ABYSS
“On the intellectual property contracts some products are established, as well as the part that belongs to the University and to each of the partners,” explains Marcos Pimenta, noting that the Center is open to the new industry demands, since nanomaterials have several types of applications. “Within the broad range of possibilities within the nanomaterials technology, there are human resources and infrastructure to solve different problems from those that generated the agreement to create CTNano.”
Pimenta states that the production of materials such as graphene, nanotubes and composite of polymers, incorporated into the operation of CTNano, is a way of developing production plants to later on transfer to industries. He explains that the technology development center deals with two important issues: gains of scale and commercial viability. The pilot plant enables the accomplishment of trials of scaling, cost reduction and process optimization, which can occur, for example, with substitution of inputs.
Pimenta highlights the need to develop innovative technologies. “We have to be prepared to solve new problems, mainly because there is an abyss between academy and industry in Brazil – in the academic environment we do not necessarily analyze cost or scale, or if a prototype is good enough. But is it possible to make one million items with the same quality standard? Looking for answers to questions like this is the role of CTNano “, exemplifies professor Marcos Pimenta.