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Mitsubishi and SDK Form Strategic Partnership in Fullerene Business
–Frontier Carbon to Start Operating as Equally-Owned JV–

MITSUBISHI CORPORATION
Showa Denko K.K.
Jan 9, 2013

 

Mitsubishi Corporation (MC) and Showa Denko K.K. (SDK) have entered into a strategic partnership in the Fullerene business. As part of the arrangement, SDK yesterday acquired from MC a 50% stake in Frontier Carbon Corporation (FCC), a producer and marketer of Fullerene products, thereby making FCC a 50-50 joint venture between MC and SDK.

Fullerene is a molecule composed entirely of carbon. It takes the form of a soccer ball (Fig. 1)  and is one nanometer (one-millionth of a millimeter) in diameter. As the molecule is soluble in organic solvents and is an excellent electron acceptor, it is seen as a promising material in the field of electronics, particularly for such applications as n-type material for organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells (Fig. 2).

SDK has over 10 years of experience commercially producing carbon nanotubes under the trade name VGCFTM.  SDK is therefore confident that its nanotechnology acquired through the VGCFTM business can be practically applied to the Fullerene business. SDK and FCC will jointly undertake R&D and marketing activities towards the commercialization of Fullerene products. MC also has expertise in the manufacture of Fullerene products, including the ownership of relevant patents and an established sales network. Thus, by joining forces, SDK and MC are aiming to realize synergies on both the technological development and marketing fronts in order to accelerate the commercialization of Fullerene products.

SDK’s VGCFTM is already used in various applications, including lithium ion batteries, and the tie-up with MC in the Fullerene business is expected to further expand its carbon nano materials business. MC aims to create new businesses by dealing in new materials that contribute to innovation in the manufacturing industry.

 

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Applications of Fullerene
Commercial production of Fullerenes started in 2003 for such applications as carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) and additive in lubricants.  In recent years, development of new applications is progressing rapidly, centering on promising areas in organic electronics, as follows:

1. N-type material for next generation solar cells
Fullerene molecules accept a large amount of electrons with very strong force.  At the same time, Fullerene molecules readily combine with functional groups that are soluble in industrial organic solvents.  It is therefore possible to produce Fullerene derivatives that are readily soluble in organic solvents, while maintaining their property of high electron accepting capacity.  When Fullerene molecules are mixed with p-type organic semiconductors and made into ink, thin film layers having the property of semiconductors can be formed on PET and other types of plastic films through printing technology, contributing to mass production at low cost.  Such coating with special property will bring about innovation in the areas of organic thin film transistors (TFT)/diodes, organic photovoltaic(OPV) cells, and organic light-emitting diode (OLED).
Thus, many companies at home and abroad in the printing, electric appliance and chemical industries as well as new high-tech ventures are competing to develop and commercialize new products in this field.  With regard to an OPV cell that serves as a low-cost and flexible power-generating device after coating, in particular, almost all manufacturers have decided to adopt Fullerene as the standard material for n-type semiconductor.  As a result, efforts are being made at an accelerated pace to realize mass production of Fullerenes for organic electronics applications.

2. Optical filters, photoresist material for LSI fabrication, etc.
As Fullerene molecules absorb blue light only, they can be used as optical filters, including sunglasses.  Development is also under way to use Fullerene as photoresist in the photolithography process for next-generation ultra LSIs, utilizing the size of one-nanometer diameter of a Fullerene molecule and its high durability for plasma etching process.  Furthermore, steady progress is made in basic research in leading-edge nano devices in which a Fullerene molecule, containing metallic elements , will serve as a switch or a magnet.  Thus, development is under way in wide areas of applications.

Outline of Frontier Carbon Corporation (as of January 8, 2013)

President: Hirohiko Otsubo
Establishment: 2001
Head office: 6-1, Marunouchi 2-chome, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Shareholders:    Mitsubishi Corporation: 50%
Showa Denko K.K.: 50%
Scope of business: Production and sale of nano carbon products, including Fullerene


Fig. 1  A Fullerene molecule


Fig. 2  Organic photovoltaic cell


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