With a Carbon Nanotube Glut, What Do You Do with Them?

While I was attending the EuroNanoForum 2011 conference earlier this year, I ran into an old acquaintance who works at a national nanotechnology laboratory.

He told me the tale of how a large, multinational company that produces multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWNTs) approached the organization, wanting to pitch some ideas on how it could use carbon nanotubes. It came down to the company inventing uses for the MWNTs so it could get rid of the stuff.

The reason for desperate acts like this is that carbon nanotube producers have been on a capacity increase binge for the last few years without demand increasing, leaving the market for the stuff oversupplied to say the least.

Based on some analysis I have seen, the low, spot-pricing for MWNTs has dropped from $700/kg in 2006 to below $100/kg in 2009—and the price is expected to go down further, reaching $50/kg by next year. But truth be told, nobody buys raw carbon nanotubes. There is no market for them. Instead the market consists of sales of dispersions, master batches, and pre-pregs.

It is with this backdrop that I glanced over at a Spotlight piece in Nanowerk, entitled: “Global carbon nanotubes market—industry beckons.”

Well, if the author meant that MWNT producers are beckoning for someone to buy their glut of inventory, that title might make sense. But I don’t think that’s what he was driving at.

One could make the argument that the precipitous drop in pricing for MWNTs has made it a more attractive material, so we may be experiencing a slight shift to market pull as opposed to technology push. But let’s be serious. MWNT producers are probably at 10 percent utilization rates or below with all the new capacity they have. There’s just not enough industry using the material to constitute a beckoning.

I mean, the growth market for MWNTs appears to be in wind turbine blades and heads. That’s got to tell you something about the market’s prospects.

No, it’s not 2001 anymore, and little promotional pieces like this one kind of miss the mark a decade later.



IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

Dexter Johnson
Madrid, Spain