Researchers are using nanoparticles of clay to raise polymers to new capabilities. The ongoing interest in nanocomposite polymers is evidenced by two upcoming conferences on the topic scheduled later this year—one sponsored by Principia Partners in Baltimore in June and another hosted by the Canadian National Research Council’s Industrial Materials Institute in Montreal in September. The automotive area represents a lot of potential, particularly for exterior body panels and fascia, and such interior components as instrument panels. One indication of the interest level is the attention being focused on thermoplastic olefins, which is one of the fastest growing plastic groups used in exterior and interior automotive applications. Dow Chemical Co. of Midland, Michigan, and Decoma International of America in Troy, Michigan, are jointly investigating nanocomposites as part of a NIST Advanced Technology Program. The present focus of the project is understanding the fundamentals of processing, developing, and compounding nanocomposites. Dow is also looking at synthetic nanofillers, which may offer advantages in consistency over natural clay feedstocks.

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