INTERVIEW: Key to success is producing nanocatalysts in commercial volume, says QSI CEO

qsiNew Materials News recently reported that QuantumSphere (QSI), a manufacturer of nanocatalysts, had entered into a multi-year joint development agreement with Casale, a provider of products and services for the production of ammonia, urea, melamine, methanol, syngas, nitrates and phosphates.

Casale and QuantumSphere agreed to collaborate on commercial technologies for ammonia, methanol, and other industrial chemicals, which collectively account for several hundred billion of US dollars of production annually. Casale also agreed to utilize QSI as its exclusive provider of nanocatalysts for its chemical synthesis processes during the term of the agreement.

Following the announcement, we spoke exclusively to the company’s CEO Kevin Maloney to discuss the short- and long-term objectives of the agreement, the future of the nanocatalyst market and the potential for future growth in China.

NMN: The first objective of the agreement is to validate and optimize QSI catalysts with Casale technologies. What will this validation stage involve?

Over the last 12 years QSI has developed a patented and fully automated production process to manufacture high-surface area advanced nanocatalysts. Over the past several years, we’ve demonstrated an increase in ammonia output utilizing QSI-Nano iron (product name: FeNIX) for ammonia production in lab settings, and recently validated an increase in output in two commercial ammonia production reactors in China.

The current work with Casale is aimed at validating – or proving the efficacy of – QSI-Nano copper for enhanced methanol production and additional validation of FeNIX for production of ammonia and other high-value industrial chemicals, utilizing Casale reactor designs.

Casale is a global leader in reactor design technologies for industrial chemical production. Approximately 38 per cent of ammonia and 39 per cent of methanol produced globally utilizes Casale reactor technologies. Part of the validation includes using QSI-Nano materials to further increase reactor efficiencies in conjunction with current and next-generation reactor designs from Casale.

Of course, after successful validation of QSI-Nano materials and optimization of the reactor design and operating parameters in the Casale lab, our goal is to implement QSI-Nano materials in existing and new full-scale production reactors. Commercial validation of increased production output and per-unit energy savings, along with a continued partnership agreement which includes global sales and distribution, are the ultimate goals.

NMN: How much is this deal worth to QSI?

This agreement is very important to QSI. We are proud to continue our long-term relationship with Casale to bring game-changing technologies to the global chemicals market. Partnering with an industry leader like Casale, whose history dates back nearly 100 years, brings with it a wealth of technical and business knowledge and instant credibility in the highly mature and ultra conservative chemicals industry.

In terms of economic value, the additional commercial validation of QSI-Nano materials that will result from the partnership will allow QSI to expand its presence in the $100bn per year ammonia market and enter the $50bn per year methanol market.

NMN: What estimate do you put on the growth of the nanocatalyst market over the next few years?

We expect that the nanomaterial market will continue to gain traction over the next several years. Currently, a lot of energy and resources – from universities, large corporations, and startups – are devoted to the technical application and understanding of high surface area nanocatalysts and their role in increasing efficiency and output in current and next generation chemical processes.

The key to long-term market growth will be – and the key to QSI success is – the ability to produce high-quality nanomaterials in commercial volume and then to effectively integrate the nanomaterials into commercial applications. Our commercial applications focus is the chemicals sector.

QSI’s current manufacturing capacity is several metric tons per year of advanced nanocatalysts. We’ve designed our process in a way that allows us to scale very quickly and as-needed to meet growing customer demand. Additionally, we’ve demonstrated our ability to effectively integrate nano technology into commercial applications, as seen in our recent commercial validation where QSI-Nano FeNIX increased ammonia production by 10-15 per cent in a full-scale ammonia production facility in China, which could result in millions of additional revenue and profit over the life of the catalyst.

NMN: What synergies do you think you’ll realise working with Casale?

QSI’s core competency lies in its ability to produce advanced nanocatalysts on a commercial scale and integrate our nanocatalysts into multiple high-value commercial chemicals applications. Working with Casale – who ranks among the best in reactor design and process technologies globally – will allow us to implement QSI-Nano materials in existing commercial production technology and also allow Casale to design new reactor technology around the more-active QSI-Nano catalysts.

NMN: Is China a top target for you, and how does that fit with this new deal?

Accounting for over 30 per cent of the world’s ammonia production, China is important; there’s no question about that. With the increase in chemical production efficiency and emissions standards, the Chinese chemical market certainly has latent demand for QSI-Nano technology which can simultaneously increase the production output of an ammonia plant and lower the emissions per ton of ammonia produced.

We’ve focused a lot of our energy on China because of the obvious need to increase ammonia production efficiency and the eagerness of Chinese ammonia producers to test and adopt QSI-Nano FeNIX technology. That being said, QSI-Nano FeNIX offers an extraordinary value to ammonia producers outside of China – many of whom are already excited by the technology. As we continue to test with Western ammonia producers, and as we point to our success in China, we will quickly diversify our geographic market.

NMN: What markets are you planning to grow into in the medium-term?

QSI’s medium-term goals are quite simply to expand our QSI-Nano FeNIX customer base with key partners in China and globally, followed by the commercial introduction of QSI-Nano catalysts for methane and other chemicals.

The validation work with Casale is an important step in achieving those goals.

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