DuPont's Got One Word for You: Nanocomposites

In the 1967 movie classic The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman's character, Benjamin Braddock, was given one word of advice by a friend of the family: "Plastics." The famous scene was intended as a social critique condemning the superficial nature of the modern industrialized economy. But few have considered that the advice was pretty good and has stood the test of time.

I'm guessing that a number of 1967 graduates went on to successful careers in the burgeoning field of plastics. I further surmise that many of these graduates, who are about 61 years of age, are now preparing to retire in relative comfort.

If The Graduate were to receive a 2006 update, the word "plastics" might well be replaced with the word "nanotechnology." As proof, I remind you of BASF's (NYSE: BF  ) announcement this past spring that it was investing $221 million into nanotechnology-related research and development over the next three years. Company officials stated that the impetus for the sizeable investment was an internal prediction that nanotech-related advances would enable between $61 billion and $74 billion in sales of new products by 2010.

It now appears that another plastics giant, DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) , is jumping on to the nanotech bandwagon. Last week, the chemical giant announced that it had created a new nanocomposite thermoplastic, dubbed DNM, which would lead to major improvements in mechanical properties, high-temperature performance, barrier performance, and processing characteristics of a number of its products.

What this means in more practical terms is that DuPont can now make plastics lighter without compromising their strength, and manufacture plastic components that can withstand higher temperatures. Both applications will likely lead to a host of new applications -- and thus new revenues -- for DuPont.

DuPont is also reported to have licensed a new nanocoating technology from Ecology Coatings, a private nanotech company located in Ohio, that dramatically enhances the abrasion-resistance and scratch-resistance of its products by improving surface hardness. Moreover, the coatings, which can be applied with existing equipment, have the added advantage of being able to be cured by ultraviolet light in less than ten seconds.

This latter characteristic might not sound like much, but the neat little trick could save DuPont customers big money by reducing by as much as 75 percent the amount of material used in the coating process. It could produce even more savings by eliminating the need for hazardous chemicals; in turn, that will free companies from costly regulatory restrictions.

Such benefits aren't particularly sexy, but then again, neither were the benefits of plastics in 1967. All the field of plastics has done, however, is yield a healthy, stable return for the past four decades, and provided a number of people a comfortable retirement.

Could nanocomposites and nanocoatings do the same for you? I believe so, but what you do with this advice in entirely up to you.

In his heart, Fool contributor Jack Uldrichis more like Benjamin Braddock, chasing his true love of nanotech profits in more exotic places. He is the author of two books on nanotechnology, including Investing in Nanotechnology: Think Small, Win Big.He does not own shares of DuPont or BASF. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.


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