Trajectories in translation: parallels between old and new materials

Can looking at the commercialization history of mature materials such as Bakelite, Teflon and silicon carbide offer clues to the likely development timelines for today’s rising stars such as graphene, metal organic frameworks, and silver nanowires, to give just a few examples? Analyst firm Lux Research thinks so, and has released its results in a report dubbed “Planning for ripe fruit: Materials innovation lifecycles as a predictive scouting tool.”

In the study, Lux Research looked at the development trajectories of 49 materials by examining the gap from the first major jump in patent activity to the commercialization milestones that followed – a period that typically spanned anywhere from 10 to 25 years, but extended much further in some cases.

From the analysis, the team found that it could group the materials into a number of classes –

whether the material was single- or multi-functional,

whether the discovery was targeted or unplanned,

and whether it was an enhancing or platform technology.

“When we looked at the different materials in each class, we found parallels in the invention-to-commercialization pathways,” Anthony Vicari – one of the lead analysts on the study – told TMR+.

In principle, this means that once you know which category a new material falls into, you can identify some of the likely barriers to commercialization – a framework that could be a big help for start-ups when estimating development times.

“There’s often an unrealistic expectation in how quickly new materials will make it to the market, and this analysis offers a starting point for strategic decision making,” he said.

Different classes, different challenges
Let’s look at some of the development hurdles in more detail, starting with multifunctional materials.

“The big advantage of this class of materials is that they can potentially replace multiple parts, but this typically requires a high level of redesign and significant developer resources, which lengthens the commercialization time,” said Vicari.

“For enhancing materials, it is pretty clear from the beginning what the application is – the challenges here are focused on getting good performance at the right price,” he continued.

Platform technologies on the other hand can pose a deeper problem, as it can take time to figure out what the key applications are.

Vicari gives the example of silicon carbide (SiC). “There was an 80 year gap from demonstration to commercialization,” he points out.

Today, SiC is a key material in LED and power electronics sectors.

Looking at parallels between SiC and emerging materials, Vicari believes that metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), which were first reported in the 1950s, could be on a similar development timeframe. This would see non-niche commercial products launching around 2035.

Further reading on the web –

Metal-organic frameworks for energy storage (Royal Society of Chemistry)