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New coating technologies for unexpected applications.

Coating technology affects far more aspects of daily life than most people realize. Well beyond house paint, automotive coatings, and the protection of infrastructure, coatings provide a wide range of functionality in many applications. Two new developments target such diverse areas as food containers and superconducting wires. One is a new coating; the other is a new coating process.


Researchers at MIT under the direction of Professor Kripa Varanasi have developed a coating solution to a perplexing problem facing diners everywhere. Viscous, non-Newtonian fluid condiments refuse to flow smoothly from the bottle, often leading to over-doused food. The answer from the Varanasi group: a slippery coating that allows ketchup or mayonnaise to flow like water.

Originally under development as an anti-icing coating for the wings of airplanes and an anti-clogging coating for deep sea oil pipelines, the coating has been modified for use, at least initially, in food packaging. The group has filed for a patent and is not providing any information on the ingredients in the formulation. However, they do explain that once the target was defined as a coating for use with food products, all of the raw materials were selected based on their approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in food (i.e., they are edible).

The coating adheres to a variety of substrates--plastic, glass, ceramic, and metal, for instance--and performs equally when applied to them. Application is simple, too; the coating can be easily sprayed onto the inside of the containers.

Why the interest in food packaging? The researchers estimate that as much as one million pounds of condiments alone remain in bottles and are thrown out each year. That waste could be eliminated. In addition, a smaller cap could be used if ketchup flowed more easily, leading to an annual reduction in the use of plastic by 25,000 tons. Furthermore, the group values the condiments market at $17 billion.

The coating technology, which the scientists have dubbed LiquidGlide, took second place in MIT $100k Entrepreneurship Competition ahead of 213 other teams. It has also attracted the attention of several food companies. Meanwhile, Varanasi and his group continue to investigate other potential applications, including pipelines, gas lines, and windshields, and are working out of the MIT Founders' Skills Accelerator as they pursue commercialization of the new coating.


Superconductors are attractive because they conduct current without resistance, and thus their current carrying capacity is much greater than copper. High-temperature superconductors function at about -196[degrees]C (77 K), or slightly above the boiling point of nitrogen. Modern cryotechnology makes it possible to cost effectively operate at such temperatures, and that means that compact, lightweight systems based on high-temperature superconductors are being considered more often.

One challenge, however, has been the manufacturing of the wires used in superconductors. Common high-temperature superconducting materials include bismuth strontium calcium copper oxide (BSCCO), lanthium barium copper oxide, yttrium barium copper oxide (YBCO), iron pnictides, and mercury barium calcium copper oxide. Cuprates, unfortunately, are brittle ceramics that are difficult to form into wires, and thus are expensive to manufacture.

Deutsche Nanoschicht GmbH, founded in November 2011 as an evolution of the superconductor wire department of Zenergy Power GmbH and operating since January 1, 2012, is hoping to change that. It has developed a coating process for the manufacture of high-temperature superconductor wires that is based on chemical solution deposition. According to the company, the process enables the deposition of the ceramic layers with flawless crystal orientation in a cost-effective manner.

Customized formulations are deposited onto a crystalline substrate by means of a continuous process. During the deposition, the crystallographic structure of the substrate is effectively transferred to the ceramic layers being deposited. As a result, all of the crystals of the superconductor material that are formed on the substrate are perfectly aligned to each other. The coating consequently features the ideal electrical properties of a monocrystal, but without the poor mechanical properties typically associated with these ceramic materials, such as brittleness and impact sensitivity.

Deutsche Nanoschicht's coating process for high-temperature superconductor production has attracted the attention of BASF Future Business, a 100% subsidiary of BASF SE that focuses on chemistry-based new materials, technologies, and system solutions with above-average growth rates that lie outside BASF's mainstream activities, and funds internal R&D activities as well as cooperates with startup companies, industrial partners, universities, and potential customers.

The two companies are working together to bring the technology to the marketplace, starting with the energy sector. "The technologies that we have developed facilitate innovative power engineering systems that operate efficiently with little impact on resources, and are useful wherever large volumes of electricity are generated, transported, or used," says Dr. Michael Backer, managing director of Deutsche Nanoschicht. "Manufacturers of generators and motors or of cable and mains supply networks for metropolitan areas will be particularly interested in superconductor technology. Among other applications, it enables energy to be harvested highly efficiently from renewable resources by means of wind and hydro power generators, especially in offshore wind farms," he adds.


The new superconductor manufacturing process should also have a broad range of applications beyond the energy sector. "We believe that the coating technology of Deutsche Nanoschicht is a promising technology platform. Combined with our expertise in formulation, it can form the bask for the development of new system solutions for sensor and energy technology as well as electronics," observes Dr. Ralf Norenberg, a member of the scouting team at BASF Future Business.
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Publication:JCT CoatingsTech
Date:Sep 1, 2012
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