The revolutionary promise of nanocarbons has been touted for more than 3 decades, but despite the extraordinary properties and commercial hype, the success has been limited - until now. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) may not be as glamorous as their younger sibling graphene, but IDTechEx forecast the annual demand to exceed 70 ktpa by 2032 as for the first time the manufacturers experience a mass-market pull rather than a material push.
So, what is this market pull? It is the role that MWCNTs play as a conductive additive in the cathodes of lithium-ion batteries in a booming electric vehicle market. This will not grab the headlines like a "graphene battery" will, but the introduction provides key performance benefits as well as allowing thicker electrodes and higher C-rates, and enabling solutions for other next-generation batteries and ultracapacitors.
In their latest report, "Carbon Nanotubes 2022-2032: Market, Technology, Players", IDTechEx provides granular 10-year market forecasts, player analysis, technology benchmarking, and a deep dive into these core and emerging application areas. IDTechEx has an extensive history in studying not only these nanocarbons but also key sectors including lithium-ion batteries, supercapacitors, sensors, printed electronics, and more. The report brings the reader a technical analysis and market study based on primary-interview-based company profiles.
Source: IDTechEx - "Carbon Nanotubes 2022-2032: Market, Technology, Players"
What does this mean for the CNT industry?
1. Expansion and consolidation
The image shows the MWCNT capacity over time. As was seen there was an initial growth between 2007-2011 feeding off the commercial hype, but what followed was a long plateau. With the lithium-ion battery application we are seeing rapid expansion once again and this time it is justified. These expansions are occurring to meet the demand from the booming battery electric vehicle market, which even the pandemic has now slowed. The predominance of this activity, as with the lithium-ion battery supply chain, is in East Asia and clear market leaders are begging to emerge. It has also drawn engagement from notable carbon black players with Cabot Corporation making notable acquisitions and Birla Carbon strategic investments.
However, IDTechEx expects this to also bring an inevitable consolidation, look at a more mature additive like specialty carbon black where 3 companies easily occupy over 50% of the market. The time for growth is now or expect to be left behind.
2. Price reduction and emerging opportunities
This evolution has also caused an inevitable reduction in price, these are still high-value, high-performance products and larger production scales facilitate process and supply chain efficiencies lowering costs, but as we approach an annual demand in excess of 10,000 tonnes prices will continue to tumble.
To be clear, this is not the first application of MWCNTs. They have found good roles in polymers and elastomers ranging from fuel systems to electronics packaging, but it would be unrealistic to call these mass applications. However, with expanding scale and dropping price it will open up more application spaces, particularly in nanocomposites.
3. A different story for SWCNTs
Single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) are the higher performance version of their multi-walled counterparts. However, owing to the challenges in manufacturing and dispersion they are at a very different stage of market penetration. There are some applications that they compete on, such as a polymer additive and there are some promising battery results, but it will not be reaching the hundreds of tonnes let alone tens of thousands of tonnes anytime soon. However, there are some very interesting high-value applications in sensors, semiconductors, and quantum computing progressing where volume is not the key but instead purity, chirality, and consistency become key.
Similarly, there is continued progression in the early commercial stage of VACNTs arrays, very high-aspect ratio nanotubes, continuous yarns, and nonwoven sheets with new companies and solutions emerging.
There are threats to this growth, the outstanding question on health implications and shifting regulations remain, geographic considerations, and rapidly evolving battery technology developments. All of these are studied along with interview-based profiles and case studies within the new IDTechEx market report.
It has taken a long time, but the narrative has finally changed from an "advanced material with unique properties looking for a problem to solve" to a value-add product in a rapidly growing mass market.
For more information see the market report "Carbon Nanotubes 2022-2032: Market, Technology, Players". For information on IDTechEx's energy storage research, please visit www.IDTechEx.com/Energystorage.