MASSILLON, Ohio—Todd Hawkins thinks his company, Tesla Nanocoatings in Massillon, is about to strike it big in the oil and gas industry.
The company, which received six patents this year for its technologies and processes, makes corrosion- proof coatings for metal, especially steel. It sells them to customers who need to protect metal assets in harsh environments such as saltwater. Think offshore oil rigs and commercial and military ships.
All told, the company now has been awarded 22 patents for its technology, including 12 in the U.S. and the rest abroad, Hawkins said.
In the past year, Tesla has sold about $5 million worth of its coatings, and in 2019, it turned the corner to become profitable. That's something Hawkins said he could have achieved last year, but he chose instead to invest further in the company and its intellectual property.
So far, Hawkins is working with a fairly small staff. He's got 10 employees in Massillon and four working in the South on projects in the Gulf of Mexico, he said.
Now, Hawkins is getting his shot at the big leagues. A major oil producer and smaller oil and gas customers are testing his coatings, including on offshore rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
If it works like Hawkins says it does and is approved for use, Tesla is likely to hit a revenue gusher, he said. Some experts in offshore drilling who know about related corrosion problems said there's definitely a big market and opportunities out there. So, what does Tesla Nanocoatings make exactly?
"Disruptive carbon nanotechnology," Hawkins called it, explaining the technology is based on what are known as "carbon nanotubes"—itty-bitty tubes of carbon discovered in the 1980s in nature that now are being produced commercially. They're so small, you'd need to cluster thousands of them together to get a fiber the width of a human hair, Hawkins said.
But in large numbers, they are mighty, he said, and can be used to produce extremely tough and self- healing coatings like the ones Tesla Nanocoatings makes.
His small facility on North Avenue Northwest, where the company does much of its research and development, is largely filled with devices that test how the coatings withstand saltwater, exposure to UV light, extreme temperatures and impacts from hard objects. Those are the sorts of things the coatings will encounter in the field and must endure to protect ships and drilling rigs, Hawkins said.
Hawkins said he's developed coatings that not only perform better, but also are easier to apply than competing products. Those other products require four or more coats, he said, while Tesla's coatings only require two: a primer and a topcoat.
"In a shipyard, the paint shop is kind of the bottleneck. When you take three-, four- and five-coat systems, they take a week or more to get through the paint shop. We can get them through the paint shop in two days," he said.
Tesla's coatings also conduct electricity, something Hawkins said most existing coatings can't do. That makes his coatings more versatile than others, he added, and they can be combined with other corrosion-prevention methods more easily.
"Not only are they 100 times as strong as steel, they're 1,000 times as conductive as copper," Hawkins said of the nanotubes he uses.