July 17, 2002 -- DuPont Titanium Technologies, part of a wholly owned subsidiary of DuPont, has closed an intellectual property agreement with NanoSource Technologies Inc., a fledgling nanomaterials company in Oklahoma City.
Sharon Justice, a public affairs manager for DuPont Titanium, confirmed the deal, which closed earlier this year, calling it a "small intellectual property transfer." DuPont declined to disclose terms, the technology or what the chemical giant plans to do with the intellectual property transferred from what it called the "NanoSource relationship."
NanoSource company officials declined comment. "Terms of the deal are strictly confidential," Charles Seeney, NanoSource founder and chief executive officer, said in an e-mail.
Privately held NanoSource, founded in 1999, had developed a prototype process for manufacturing titanium dioxide nanopowders, which are less than 100 nanometers in diameter.
Because of their optic qualities, titanium dioxide nanopowders are a hot commodity in the sunscreen and cosmetics industry. Other markets include thermal coatings, environmental catalysts for water treatment or auto emissions and paints. Future products include countertops and paints, for instance, that are self-cleaning and self-sanitizing.
In January 2001, NanoSource began distributing samples of titanium dioxide nanoparticles. "A particularly useful grade for cosmetics and coatings utilizes a novel polymeric (organic) coating. This material is an industry first," according to an earlier news release from NanoSource.
NanoSource also last year announced an exclusive licensing agreement with Tekna Plasma Systems Inc. of Sherbrooke, Quebec, for fabrication and commercialization of nanoparticle titanium dioxide.
Tekna specializes in thermal plasma technologies and operates in collaboration with the Plasma Technology Research Center at the University of Sherbrooke and McGill University.
Maher Boulos, president of Tekna, declined comment about the DuPont deal. However, he did say Tekna was "actively involved in making nanomaterials using plasma technology."
Titanium dioxide nanopowders represent a potentially lucrative market, said Neil Gordon, a partner and nanomaterials analyst with Sygertech Consulting Group Inc., a technology consulting firm in Montreal.
Macroscale titanium dioxide is the most widely used white pigment in the world. Coatings, plastics, ceramics, inks and fibers all depend on white pigments to impart color and opacity either as part of a surface coating such as paint or by incorporation into the materials themselves such as plastics or inks.
DuPont Titanium is the world's largest manufacturer of macroscale titanium dioxide. DuPont make as much as 1,000 tons a day of the material and recently polished its image in that industry. DuPont White Pigment and Mineral Products changed its name last May to DuPont Titanium Technologies, and is part of a new wholly owned subsidiary, DuPont Textiles & Interiors.
Industrywide annual sales last year for macroscale titanium dioxide were between $4 billion and $8 billion, Gordon said. Other nanomaterial companies, such as Altair Nanotechnologies Inc., have pegged the market slightly higher at $9 billion. According to the Australian consulting company TZ Minerals, the annual market for macroscale titanium dioxide was about $8 billion in 2001.
"Nanoparticles offer advancement in applications," Gordon said, but the market is only beginning to grow. Nanomaterials had annual sales in 2001 of about $30 million, not including research and development contracts, he said.
"In comparison to sales of titanium dioxide nanomaterial companies, such as Altair, found in 10K reports, I would estimate that of these sales, about 1 percent, or $300,000, was for titanium dioxide nanoparticles," Gordon said.
"You can see the market opportunities," Gordon said, but titanium dioxide nanopowders remain in the research realm for the most part. The particles absorb light and that has particularly useful applications in sunscreens, for instance. Other areas of research include coatings for surgical products, aircraft engines, sporting equipment and electronics, he said.
Gordon included NanoSource among companies developing titanium nanoparticle processes. Others include Reno, Nev.-based Altair, Romeoville, Ill.-based Nanophase Technologies Corp., Sanford, Fla.-based Argonide Corp. and Japan's Toshiba Corp.
The challenging part is not necessarily in the production of the material, he pointed out. "Even if the world can produce tons of nanoparticles, the question is how will they be used." That's what has companies -- large and small -- looking over their shoulders to check what the competition is doing.
"Unusual" is how one research analyst described NanoSource's agreement with DuPont. A small intellectual property transfer is an "interesting step for a company (DuPont) that's known for its internal technology development," said Michael Shonstrom with Denver-based Shonstrom Research Associates, which tracks nanomaterial companies.
Kenneth Lyon, president of Altair Nanomaterials, the production subsidiary of Altair Nanotechnologies, keeps his ear to the ground. In April, Altair was granted the first patent covering a complete process (that does not produce dioxins) to make titanium dioxide pigment from ore concentrates since the DuPont chloride process patents were awarded in the 1950s, Lyon said.
"DuPont hasn't been down in that range (titanium dioxide below 100 nanometers)," Lyon said, "in anything we know of in the market."