A mission critical to the eventual success of nanotechnology is the development of new and improved commercial products that create economic growth and provide significant benefits to society. Thus, while a primary focus of the Center is on fundamental research, in select cases, we are focusing on the utility of our innovations and taking advantage of our close collaborations with industry to develop intellectual property, transfer technology, and help in pre-commercialization activities. Progress in technical transfer has been aided by regular interaction with industry, which in some cases is semi-monthly phone calls, two face-to-face visits each year, and student internships. In addition, 3 students have spent time in industry this year and two startup companies continue to commercialize technology initially developed within the NSEC and continue to leverage NSEC funds.
The following sections detail some of our success stories during the past year in technology transfer.
ABB Corporation - Nanocomposites Used in the High Voltage Cable Industry
We (Schadler, Siegel) have been working with ABB Corporation for eight years to solve fundamental problems that will help to develop materials useful for the high voltage cable industry. Specifically, we have been conducting fundamental research on the effect of nanoparticles on the morphology, mechanical properties, and electrical behavior of polymers. We have filed two comprehensive patents with ABB. The work has resulted in many publications, including two recently published and two in preparation. Former RPI-NSEC graduate student Su Zhao is a postdoctoral fellow at ABB. She is using the materials developed in her thesis (nanoalumina/ epoxy composites with increased ductility and fatigue resistance) to build commercial test parts. This is the next step in the commercialization process, and the results to date are promising. One reason for the success of this interaction is the extensive collaborations we have developed. We have two face-to-face meetings per year usually at Rensselaer, but periodically in Sweden, where there are several days of interactions between the students and the technical staff at ABB. In addition, we have a short symposium where the students and the technical staff from ABB present their results followed by a long discussion. We have phone calls every other week in which the students must present a written report, and the technical staff offer comments and suggestions. This leads to significant maturing on the part of the students and ensures that there is a deep understanding of ABB’s needs by the students, and an appreciation of the fundamental understanding we are gaining by the industrial researchers.
Chisso Corporation is an Osaka based chemical and materials company that joined the Rensselaer Nanocenter in 2008. With the funding provided by Chisso, we supported a postdoctoral fellow and a graduate student in Professor Linhardt’s laboratory, in addition to a visiting scientist from Chisso Polypro Fiber Company, Minoro Miyauchi. The focus of our joint project is the preparation of electrically active conducting nanofiller/cellulose nanofibers, which have a broad range of applications. The nanofibers have been processed using electrospinning and a novel nonvolative organic salt, called room temperature ionic liquids, as a solvent. The unique nature of this project is the use of ionic liquids, which are capable of both dissolving cellulose and suspending nanotubes. By electrospinning these solutions into a coagulation bath containing an anti-solvent, such as water or ethanol, we obtain nanofiber composites. The electrical properties of these novel materials are then tested. Publications and patents are already in preparation, which will allow us to release more information on these exciting materials, (see figure below).
Field emission scanning electron microscope images of cellulose fibers electrospun from a room temperature ionic liquid.
DzymeTech, Inc. - Start-up Based on NSEC Technology
Under the NSEC, we (Lu) have made significant progress in advancing the fundamental science of genetic control of stimuli-responsive assembly and disassembly of nanomaterials such as gold nanoparticles, quantum dots, supermagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles using functional DNA such as DNAzymes and aptamers. These research activities have resulted in simple, highly sensitive and selective colorimetric, fluorescent and magnetic resonance imaging sensors for a broad range of molecules, including metal ions (such as lead, uranyl, mercury and copper) and organic molecules (such as adenosine and cocaine, and thrombin). This past year, we filed two patent applications through the Office of Technology Management at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The technology has been licensed to the DzymeTech. In 2008, DzymeTech, in collaboration with the Lu group, received one NIH STTR Phase II grant (totaling $750,000).
Solidus Biosciences, Inc. - Start-up Based on NSEC Technology
Advances in the fields of genomics and proteomics combined with the complete sequencing of the human genome have produced a number of new targets for potential therapeutics. However, many candidate drugs fail due to poor metabolic and toxicological profi les. Earlier screening of these compounds could streamline the drug discovery pathway and potentially decrease the cost of manufacturing pharmaceuticals. Solidus Biosciences, Inc. (Dordick) is exploiting revolutionary, proprietary technology to develop easy-to-use, readily marketable biochips and associated benchtop devices that will alleviate two key bottlenecks in the drug development pipeline: the analysis of drug candidate toxicity and the diversification and optimization of pharmaceutical lead compounds to yield better drugs. These biochips and devices (the MetaChip and Multizyme Chip, and the MetaReader device) will enable low cost, accurate, high-throughput in vitro analysis of drug metabolism and toxicology (MetaChip), and serve as a unique platform for high-throughput lead diversification in drug discovery (Multizyme Chip). A third chip (the DataChip) has been developed to serve as the screening chip for cell-based toxicity assessment and biological activity assessment for lead compound diversification. These chips are based on the encapsulation of human metabolizing enzymes and human cells. Nanoscale fibers formed via an alginate-based matrix aid to stabilize the enzymes and cells for use as a screening tool. The company has extended this platform by validating its technology through a series of commercial partnerships. These partnerships included expansion into the toxicity assessment for cosmetics and chemicals. A research collaboration was also established between the company and the ToxCast program of the U.S. EPA for analysis of the toxicity of agrochemicals, primarily herbicides.
The Paper Battery Company - Start-up Based on NSEC Technology
NSEC researchers at RPI have developed a nanoengineered paper battery that is lightweight, ultra thin, completely flexible, and geared toward meeting the trickiest design and energy requirements of tomorrow’s gadgets, implantable medical equipment, and transportation vehicles. It can function in temperatures between -100 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit, it is completely integrated and it can be printed like paper. The device is also unique in that it can function as both a high-energy battery and a high-power supercapacitor, which are generally separate components in most electrical systems.
More than 90 percent of the device is cellulose - the same plant cells used in nearly every type of paper – that has been infused with aligned carbon nanotubes. The nanotubes act as electrodes and allow the storage devices to conduct electricity. The device, engineered to function as both a lithium-ion battery and a supercapacitor, can provide the long, steady power output comparable to a conventional battery, as well as a supercapacitor’s quick burst of high energy.
The device can be rolled, twisted, folded, or cut into any number of shapes with no loss of mechanical integrity or efficiency. The paper batteries can also be stacked, like a ream of printer paper, to boost the total power output. It is an integrated device because the components are molecularly attached to each other: the carbon nanotube print is embedded in the paper, and the electrolyte is soaked into the paper.
A patent has been filed to protect the technology and The Paper Battery Company (http://www.paperbatteryco.com) has been formed to engineer the paper-based super-capacitors and batteries from a common starting sheet of nanocomposite material, made in a high volume, scalable process. The company will bring to market technology that is directed at the future needs for energy storage where moldable sheets of super-capacitors and batteries that efficiently meet power and energy demands will disappear into the body of the device that needs to be powered. The company’s vision is to lead the way in developing and bringing to market the next generation of hybrid, energy harvesting and storage devices, meeting the future of clean, renewable energy.