MITO Material Solutions is making a big splash in the graphene and polymers markets in a short amount of time. The U.S-based hybrid-additive solutions provider received just last year $1.1 million for product development funding from the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research grant program (SBIR) and the State of Oklahoma through the Oklahoma Center for Advanced Science and Technology (OCAST) program.
MITO Materials has used those funds to finance beta testing of their material with a number of polymer and composite manufacturers as well as development of three new products. Some of that beta testing is already complete and pilot programs will likely be launched later this year. Ultimately, MITO Materials’ graphene-enabled material promises to create lighter, tougher, and more durable products for the automotive, wind energy, aerospace, and transportation industries.
MITO Materials recently became a member of the Graphene Council and we took that opportunity to interview MITO Materials' CEO, Haley Marie Keith. Here is our interview.
Q: To start off, can you tell us a little about your main product? What is it? What applications does it serve?
A: MITO Materials manufactures graphene-hybrid modifiers for polymer composites. Our flagship product E-GO, is a hybrid of Polyhedral Oligomeric Silsesquioxane (POSS) and graphene oxide with epoxide functionality.
E-GO is used in a variety of applications such as transportation, energy, sporting goods, law enforcement, marine and other consumer goods applications enabling composite manufacturers to create tougher, lighter, and more durable products. We are characterizing the product in different materials and have seen significant tensile, impact, and flexural improvements.
Our product performs best in fiber reinforced polymer systems, with this specific product focused on applications with epoxide and amine functionalities. These systems benefit the most from E-GO because we see that we increase the adhesion between polymers and substrates. We have other formulations coming in the pipeline in 2020, which includes acrylate and methacrylate functionality hybridized with graphene oxide and a more sustainable modifier created from a waste stream polymer.
Q: You came to learn of this material while at graduate school when one of the professors at your university who invented the material had approved it to be used in your business class to conceptualize a business strategy. You won an award for your conceptualization. But what attracted you to the additive? What was the hook to the material that made you come up with the idea that could make it into a viable business?
A: Growing up in the RV industry, I listened to countless dinnertime conversations about warranty issues revolving around delamination. It was, and still is today, a huge problem that affects many industries that utilize composite materials. Initial research with the additive had shown massive increases to through-thickness toughness (65+%), or Mode 1 measured in (G1c), which is the primary cause of delaminated materials. This was the initial hook that drew me into this product. I saw it solving a real problem. Sitting here three years later, looking back on all that we have come to learn about our material, I am amazed at how many more problems we have the ability to solve.
Q: Back in September, you were in beta testing with resin and composite manufacturers. Have you identified opportunities for early stage pilot engagements?
A: Yes! MITO Materials recently participated in The 2019 Heritage Research Group Accelerator powered by Techstars, which was a great platform to engage with new companies interested in testing and piloting our product. Our Head of Business Development, Caio Lo Sardo, brought in 10 new customers who are currently testing E-GO in early stage applications. A few have already completed testing and we are working toward the first large scale pilot with a couple of large players in various application spaces by summer 2020.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your experience in working with resin and composite manufacturers, i.e. is it a rigorous process, a high learning curve, resistant, open, etc.?
A: Ha ha, all of the above. What my team and I have learned is that it’s all about the network and finding the right people to champion your cause. Overall, resin manufacturers and large companies with big R&D groups tend to have a more rigorous process and more resistance. Composite manufacturers may have a higher learning curve, but for us, it’s easier to communicate the direct value proposition. Everyone we talk to wants more performance, less weight, and easy integration, but finding your way through the web of the composites industry is not for the feint of heart.
Q: This graphene-based additive is certainly not the first graphene-based additive to be commercialized for resin and composite manufacturers. What distinguishes this additive from the others? Is it applicable to a wider range of resins and composites?
A: MITO Materials’ additive formulation is a graphene-based hybrid additive, which is a formulation of graphene oxide and POSS. At MITO Materials, we believe that
two is always better than one the best innovations come from novel solutions, which is why we found a way to optimize the properties of graphene oxide and POSS to create easy to integrate additive that does not agglomerate, is safe to handle, and provides increases in Tg, tensile, and flexural properties at very low concentrations (0.1% wt). Two pounds of E-GO can produce 2,000lbs of polymer which is enough for 3,000 carbon fiber bike frames, or enough plastic parts to outfit five F-150s.
Q: You are at a certain spot in the value chain, currently. Do you see any value in moving up and/or down the value chain, i.e. developing your own resins, producing your own graphene, etc.?
A: MITO Materials is strategically positioned in the value chain because that is where we add the most value. We are really focused on what our team does best, which is creating sustainable additives to solve real problems in order to empower the next material evolution. This company runs on an innovation model which means that my R&D team creates additives that are scalable and solve real problems, and my technical sales team Kevin Keith and Caio Lo Sardo are experts in integrating our solutions into the market. I believe MITO Materials' position in the value chain is filling a void in this industry. We are an integral piece in the middle in the map, which helps composite manufacturers and resin formulators identify the innovation they need to keep their markets moving forward.
Right now, MITO Materials does not intend or see any value on moving up and producing its own resin or graphene. Instead, we will soon release two new graphene-hybrid additives and we will focus our efforts on teaching the market about the new ways these materials can be used to solve problems at an affordable price.