Nanoco Group PLC (LON:NANO) Chief Executive Officer Michael Edelman caught up with DirectorsTalk for an exclusive interview to discuss quantum dot technology, their own routes to market and expanding licenses, market opportunities, their new partnership and the £8 million raise last year
Q1: Michael can you explain what a quantum dot is and what are the commercial applications for your technology?
A1: Quantum dot is a very tiny semi-conductor nanoparticle, when I say tiny I mean between 1 and 10 nanometres which is 10-100,000 times thinner than the width of your hair. What’s unique about these materials is when you change their size, you change the optical properties so, these tiny quantum dots give off very very bright, purely coloured, whatever colour we try and manufacturer and when you have a particle or a material that gives off a lot of very very bright light with a small amount of energy in, people start to get excited. Especially people in the display industry, lighting industry, in life sciences because these materials can be used to. detect cancer cells, image cancer cells, and for advanced applications such as sensors.
Q2: Quite a broad spectrum of application there. Can you talk about your USP in terms of your heavy-metal free technology and efficient mass production processes?
A2: Yes, so the original quantum dots were based on a heavy metal called Cadmium, which is toxic and is heavily regulated, we developed heavy-metal free and we lead the world in that area so it’s one of the key USP’s of Nanoco.
The other key thing that we figured out, and the key problem that we solved, was how to mass produce these materials and we use a process known as the seeding process, which is different to any of our competitors and it allows us to very cost-effectively make these materials. Solving this scale up for mass production problem, it’s a key issue when you’re bringing new materials into the market, the key problem for any new materials is how do you make enough cost-effectively so industry can start bolting these new materials into products and these products can be affordable by you and I.
Q3: The focus of the last two years, since Nanoco decided to change its commercialisation strategy in display, has been on developing its own routes to market and also expanding its licenses. Can you give us some details on what you’ve achieved there?
A3: So, few years ago, as you mentioned, we moved from exclusive model where our technology was exclusively license to Dow and we moved them to non-exclusive arrangement, soon after that signed up Merck as a second licensee to manufacture and sell our materials and Wah Hong in Taiwan were a large optical film coder and converter.
We also expanded our Runcorn own corn facilities here in the UK, our Runcorn manufacturing facilities, to enable us to produce quantities that were needed to launch our materials into the display market. The idea was that we moved from a single channel into the display market to a multi-channel approach with Nanoco, with our own factory, Dow with their factory, Merck eventually with their own factory, all pushing into this very large lucrative market.
We’re really pleased with the progress and since making that change, we’ve successfully managed to get our product into panel makers notably in Taiwan. We saw last September AUO, who I believe are the fourth largest TV maker in the world, showcase a whole range of new TV’s, 65/75/85-inch TV’s which contained our technology at Touch Taiwan and they did it again and showed our TV’s again earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show.
So, what we see is that commercial products we’re now shipping and we expect to see product in the market with our quantum dots in quarter 2 of this year. So, mass production is ramping up now so it’s an exciting and busy time for Nanoco.
Q4: What can you tell me about other market opportunities for your technology, outside of display, and the progress that you’re making there?
A4: So, outside the display, and I think you pointed out earlier, that this technology can be broadly applied to a wide range of unrelated markets, so we would really call this a true platform technology whether it’s cancer imaging or display.
So outside of display, we’ve been working very actively in the lighting market, notably the niche lighting market more specifically horticultural lighting where we’re able to tune the emission of the lights using our quantum dots to match the ideal growing conditions of various plant species that are going up for mass production of very high-quality food.
Also, photodynamic therapy where the quantum dots are being used, light therapy being used, to help improve blood circulation which helps reduce swelling and improve healing times.
Our life science group, Nanoco Life Sciences, is making very rapid progress in cancer diagnostics and we won a £1.1 million grant along with the University College London, specifically to look at early detection of pancreatic cancer and that’s moving very.
Of course, our nanomaterials business where we work on a whole range of different nanomaterials, and notably infrared materials which can be deployed in a range of technologies including advanced sensors, has started to take off. Last month we announced a major new contract in that area.
So, really the company is moving forward very rapidly along different fronts, so you have display which is taking off, you have a lighting which is taking off, the nanomaterials business which is taking off, all three commercial and then longer-term life sciences is beginning to bear some fruit.
Q5: Last month, you made an interesting announcement about a new partnership with a US-listed company for the scaling up and mass production of novel nanoparticles for advanced electronic devices. Can you give us any insight into this new area?
A5: This is an area that we, in the nanoparticles group, we’ve been working on for over 10 years and this contract is very significant for Nanoco. The company that we’re working with is funding the expansion of our Runcorn facility so we’re doubling the size ahead of commercial production early 2019. So, we’re moving very aggressively now to get that new production facility up and running and get those materials qualified and start selling.
The area that we work in is advanced sensor technology and as you know, sensors are becoming more and more pervasive in our everyday life. If you look at all the sensors, proximity sensors, that are used in automobiles to locate what’s around you, you look at autonomous vehicles and their need to understand what’s around them, these are the areas where these types of sensors are used and our materials work in that area to help improve performance.
Q6: Finally, Nanoco raised £8 million at the end of last year from existing shareholders, do you envisage this as being sufficient cash for the foreseeable future?
A6: I do, I think with the raise, with the work that we’ve done on our cost space over last year and with the contracts that are coming in now, we have sufficient cash or more than sufficient cash to take us through to cash flow positive for the company.
So, we’re in a really strong position, the balance sheet is significantly strengthened and as we’re in big time execution mode, we’re really excited for the future.