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Case Western researchers develop self-healing polymer

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have invented a polymer coating that can repair itself. Stuart Rowan, CWRU professor of macromolecular science and engineering, along with his team and researchers from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland and the Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, has spent the last three years developing a rubber-like protective coating that heals itself when an ultraviolet light is shined on it for just a few seconds.

"The idea was to develop a coating that, if it was damaged in any way, we could repair just by shining a light on it," says Rowan. "A lot of my research is creating stimulating response materials."

The science behind the technology involves taking a long chain of polymers and reducing it to small chains. When the UV light -- much like the light used in dentist offices -- shines on them, the polymers become temporarily unglued. They reassemble when the light is shut off, thus repairing the scratches.

"It works perfectly for coating penetrations," says Rowan.

The scientists envision that self-healing polymers like theirs could be used in automotive paints, varnishes for floors and furniture, and many other applications. "The material could be used in potentially any paint or coating use," says Rowan.

Their findings were published in the April 21 issue of the journal Nature.

The team is currently in talks with companies to see if there is an interest in commercializing the material.

Source: Stuart Rowan, Case Western Reserve University
Writer: Karen Connelly

This story originally appeared in hiVelocity's sister publication, Fresh Water Cleveland.

Nano-tech firms see huge growth potential in partnership

For 26 years, Nanofilm has been creating formulas for cleaning products and optical coatings in Valley View. Similarly, SDG Inc. in the Cleveland Clinic's Innovation Center has spent the last 16 years developing nanotechnologies in the medical and healthcare fields.

Until recently, the two were unaware of the each other's existence. Then, at a nanotechnologies networking meeting run by Polymer Ohio, Nanofilm's president and CEO Scott Rickert and SDG co-founder and senior vice president Robert Geho crossed paths. The meeting was the beginning of partnership in which each company brings their talents to the table to develop new products.

In early May Nanofilm and SDG Inc. signed a comprehensive joint development and licensing agreement to develop and commercialize nano-formulas that combine the two companies' technologies. Among the planned projects is development of technology to control the release and toxicity of bio-active agents at the nano-scale. Potential applications include longer lasting anti-bacterial surface treatments.

"I'm very excited about this," says Rickert. "Up until this point we have not had any way to do anything unique in the medicine and healthcare markets. We both have experience in the technology, but didn't know the other one's areas. This will allow us to take polymer films and make bioactive products that make our lives better and safer."

Rickert sees huge growth potential in the partnership. "It's going to be huge," he says. "Every time we come out with a new product announcement I see us hiring 20 more people." Rickert says they hope to announce their first new product development sometime this year.

Source: Scott Rickert
Writer: Karin Connelly

This story originally appeared in hiVelocity's sister publication, Fresh Water Cleveland

Nanofilm specializes in films so thin they’re invisible

Imagine an ultra-thin film that's invisible to the human eye. In fact, it's 2,000 times thinner than the plastic wrap you use to store leftovers.

Now imagine that film is embedded with performance properties to make it scratch resistant, anti-static, stain resistant, anti-reflective, non-stick, or water and soil resistant. Finally, imagine coating a commercial product with that film.

Scott Rickert, Ph.D., president and CEO of Nanofilm, refers to the process as "nano-izing," and it's what his Valley View company does every day in its labs.

"We develop coating formulas, embed them with the characteristics our customers want, and create the processes that enable them to apply the coating to their product," he explains.

Nanofilm specializes in coatings for glass, plastics, metals, concrete, fabric and wood for several worldwide markets, including electronics, architecture, transportation, and optical and consumer products.

When LensCrafters introduced non-glare plastic lenses for its eye glasses, they came to Nanofilm to create a coating to protect the non-glare surface. Cleveland company Ferro turned to Nanofilm to create a scratch-resistant film for a line of porcelain restaurant dinner ware.

Nanofilm developed an effective, long-lasting auto glass coating that's water resistant and provides "a huge advantage in heavy rain and snow," Rickert says. "It's Rain-X on steroids." The product's name is "Defender," and it's available through Amazon.com.

According to Rickert, with nanotechnology, less is more. "For example, if you make a surface coating super slippery, it requires less frequent and less aggressive cleaning. That means fewer harsh cleaning chemicals, like phosphates and ammonias, so it's better for the environment and costs less to clean."

Nanotechnology also has applications in the medical field, Rickert notes.

"Work is under way to make surfaces of body implants, like joints or heart stents, more biocompatible."

Future advances in nanotechnology may lead to more efficient solar energy and smaller, more powerful computers as well, he adds.

Source: Scott Rickert, Nanofilm
Writer: Lynne Meyer

Applied Sciences' pioneering nanofiber work continues with new applications

Pyrograf III and Black Ice are hardly household names among the casually tech-savvy. But in the rarified circles of research scientists and high-tech braintrusts, the products pioneered by Cedarville-based Applied Sciences Inc. are considered integral to the next wave of technological wonders.

Those are just two of several products turned out by ASI, a pioneer in nanofiber technology. Founded in 1984 by defense researchers with funding from the state, the company was producing carbon nanofibers -- in reality, nanotubes -- before the term was actually coined.

Offering low-density, high-strength attributes as well as unique qualities in thermal and electrical conductivity, nanofibers are omnipresent in almost all electronics today. Because of those unique properties, they have a wide range of applications, from medical and industrial products to aerospace uses, energy storage and computer components. And ASI was in on the ground floor.

"When people were making milligram samples of nanofibers in labs, we were already applying an industrial model, assuring quality control and making huge quantities of nanofibers," says the company's director of research and development, Dave Burton.

ASI's Pryograf line is now the gold standard for improving the electrical, thermal and mechanical properties of polymer-based materials. Black Ice, a "thermally hyper-conductive diamond/carbon/carbon composite" incorporates a thin, diamond coating to the fibers that the company has developed with its partner, Nano Graphite Materials Inc.

Well suited for electrical systems that require high heat dissipation, Black Ice is seen as a key component for the next generation of compact, high-power electronics like smartphones and electronic tablets -- it was recently named one of the 100 most technologically significant new products by R&D Magazine.

Meanwhile, the work continues at ASI, with its horizons ever-expanding.

"Initially, there were only a few applications that we targeted for nanofibers, but as time goes by we keep finding more and more uses," adds Burton. "Every month, we get calls from someone else who want to use our products for applications that no one has thought of. It's a constantly growing field."

Source: Dave Burton, Applied Sciences Inc.
Writer: Dave Malaska

CTS forges ahead with innovative, biobased resins

Composite Technical Services is among innovative U.S. companies that aspire to create an environmental and economically sustainable future.

The company, founded by CEO Enrico Ferri in 2009, is built on technology licensed from partner Cimtech labs, SEPMA and VEM in Italy. It develops bio-based resins, flame retardants, composite gas cylinders and filament winding machines for commercial use.

CTS has seven employees and one intern. They are hiring two new employees and a second summer intern, Talentino said. The company is located in the National Composite Center in Kettering, near Dayton. In 2010, the company received a $25,000 tech grant from the Dayton Development Coalition.

Composite Technical Service's first product line is ExaPhen, a resin that comes from cashew nut shells that can be used in a wide range of applications, from plastics, epoxy hardeners to adhesives and coatings. A second product line, Nanofire, is a line of liquid flame retardant additives that is targeting at the PVC industry.

"We extract the liquid from a cashew nut shell and that liquid gets purified and synthesized into a number of different products. It is like petroleum in that it has the high performance and variety to be used in a number of industries but with the added benefit that Mother Nature already engineered, the phenolic structure that makes the product inherently flame resistant. We are continually looking for other sources," said company Business Development Director Debra Talentino.

The company, which is heavy into research in development, is seeking out other natural sources that industry creates by-products or "waste" to raw materials that can be turned into products for everyday use.

Source: Debra Talentino, Composite Technical Services
Writer: Feoshia Henderson

You can follow Feoshia on Twitter @feoshiawrites

Cornerstone Research Group bridges gap between technology and market needs

"If you're told it's impossible to do, we're the right place to come," says Patrick Hood, CEO and president of Dayton-based Cornerstone Research Group.

Started in Hood's basement in 1997, Cornerstone is a research and development organization that takes advanced materials technology from molecule to commercial application -- what Hood calls "a for profit incubator."

Hood says the company, which has as many as 60 projects under way at any one time, bridges the gap between market needs and technology. While the company focuses on advanced materials, its solutions have been applied in virtually every industry segment except for IT and pharmaceuticals he says.

A good example of how Cornerstone works is Spintech Ventures, a Cornerstone spinoff that takes advantage of Cornerstone's patented shape memory polymer technology and innovative tooling to make complex composite parts. The technology was developed at Cornerstone, but the early stage Spintech will give it legs.

Hood says that the typical cost of a complexly shaped carbon composite part is about $1,000 per pound. But the cost of the raw materials is only $25 to $50 per pound. The rest of the cost comes from labor and tooling, he says. Spintech's technology can reduce typical production costs by 85 percent, he says.

Cornerstone recently was one of 44 businesses nationwide that received the U.S. Small Business Administration's Tibbets Award, given to companies and individuals that drive innovation and create jobs through the agency's Small Business Innovation Research program.

In November, the company received the Dayton Business Journal's Business of the Year award in the Community Supporter category for its community involvement.

Over the years, the Cornerstone and Spintech have benefited from awards from the Ohio Third Frontier initiative, Hood says. Together, both companies currently employ about 100.

Source: Patrick Hood, Cornerstone Research Group
Writer: Gene Monteith

Aeroclay’s ‘dirty milkshake’ strives to become versatile, green alternative to petro-based polymers

David Schiraldi, a polymer industry veteran and chair of Case Western University's Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering, calls it the "best product concept I've run into in my career."

Now, Schiraldi's company, Solon-based Aeroclay, is working to commercialize its advanced material made of clay, milk and water -- what he and his students refer to as "a dirty milkshake."

The technology was born at Case Western and licensed to Aeroclay, for which Schiraldi is chief science officer. Discovered by accident, the product with the same name as the company is lighter, greener and more versatile than petroleum-based polymers, he says.

The process sounds deceptively simple: Mix clay, milk and water in a blender, freeze dry it in a mold, and voila -- a material that, depending on the formula used, feels like Styrofoam, cork, balsa wood or other materials commonly used in industry. Aeroclay's polymer content -- some 40 different polymers are possible at present -- is derived from casein, the protein found in the milk.

One of the big advantages of Aeroclay is that "when you're half dirt, you don't burn very well or barely burn at all," Schiraldi says. "If you insulate something with polystyrene foam and you get a short circuit, your house burns down. With this, we can take a propane torch to it for five minutes and nothing happens."

Because the material doesn't rely on petroleum, Aeroclay is environmentally friendly. Additionally, using milk as the source for polymer-producing protein could benefit the dairy industry, Schiraldi says.

While Schiraldi says petroleum-based products will be cheaper than Aeroclay for some time, he says the product is poised to find its way into niche markets attracted to its other properties. He says the company, formed last April, is negotiating with a number of Fortune 100 firms, has joint development agreements with a couple of large companies, and expects commercialization near the end of the year.

Most of the company's revenue is likely to come from licensing deals rather than on-site production, Schiraldi says. Aeroclay currently employs six, but will grow as the business expands, he predicts.

Source: David Schiraldi, Aeroclay
Writer: Gene Monteith

BioBent Polymers’ launches innovative soybean-based bioplastic, adding jobs

Biobent Polymers, a new division of Marysville-based Univenture, has launched a new line of bioplastics that it says replaces up to 40 percent of the petroleum normally used in plastics manufacturing.

The key ingredient: soybean meal.

With funding from the Ohio Soybean Council, Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus developed new technology and collaborated with Univenture on the revolutionary new family of bioplastics.

"We named our new division 'Biobent' because we are definitely bending biology, taking a standardized way of producing a polymer and bending science to incorporate a biological component," explains Keith Masavage, chief of strategy and operations for both Univenture and Biobent Polymers.

The name of the new bioplastics line is Panacea. It's the industry's first bioplastic resin to maintain the characteristics of the base plastic while replacing up to 40 percent of the petroleum normally used in plastics manufacturing with soy meal, an unrefined agricultural co-product. According to Masavage, bioplastics -- plastics that incorporate renewable agricultural sources, such as vegetable oil, corn starch, algae, or pea starch to make them more environmentally friendly -- have been around for decades. Until now, however, desirable characteristics of the base plastic material, such as strength or flexibility, were compromised when agricultural co-products were added to the mix, and that adversely affected performance.

Masavage says the new material "is the only bioplastic that offers enhanced sustainability, high performance and a competitive price."

Univenture has the exclusive license to manufacture Panaca bioplastics.

Univenture, which has about 110 employees, has started purchasing equipment and hiring new people for its Biobent Polymers division.

"We plan to get up to 25-30 people in the areas of engineering, sales, marketing and general and administrative staff in the next 12-18 months," Masavage says. Biobent will occupy Univenture's available space, so there are currently no plans for a new or expanded facility.

Source: Keith Masavage, Univenture, Inc. and Biobent Polymers
Writer: Lynne Meyer

Ohio Supercomputer Center enables Akron polymer engineering expert to make advances

Can man mimic nature to improve health?

Maybe. That's what a University of Akron polymer engineering expert is researching at the Ohio Supercomputer Center in Columbus.

Hendrik Heinz is using advanced modeling and simulation techniques to more precisely understand biomineralization, nature's ability to form complex structures, such as bones, teeth and mollusk shells, from peptides; and organic photovoltaics. The work could advance knowledge of how organic materials bond to inorganic materials. Ultimately, the results of Heinz's efforts could affect the making of materials used for things like bone replacement and sensing systems -- and even disease treatment and energy generation.

Heinz has noted previously that advances in materials science such as in biomedical and energy conversion devices increasingly rely on computational techniques and modeling. In particular, work at the nanoscale level -- such as charge transport mechanisms in solar cells, the formation of biominerals, and self-assembly of polymers in multi-component materials -- is difficult to observe. Model building and simulation are critical, he says.

The Air Force Research Laboratory/Office of Scientific Research in Dayton; Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, the National Science Foundation; and ETH Zurich  and Sika Technology AG , both of Switzerland join UA and the Supercomputer Center in supporting Heinz's activities.

Heinz is "just one of scores of researchers" who are doing "amazing work" on the computational and storage systems of the Supercomputer Center, says spokesman Jamie Abel.

The Ohio Board of Regents established the center in 1987 as a statewide resource. The state's universities, businesses and others use it for an array of educational and business purposes.

Sources: Jamie Abel and Kathryn Kelley, Ohio Supercomputer Center
Writer: Gabriella Jacobs

Renegade Materials ramps up for multimillion dollar orders, new jobs

Explosive sales growth in its high temperature composites for the aircraft industry could fuel hundreds of new jobs at Renegade Materials Corp. in Springboro near Dayton.

Laura Gray, Renegade's director of sales and marketing, says improvements in manufacturing have reduced the cost of making the high-tech, lightweight composites Renegade produces that replace heavier metal parts on both military and commercial aircraft.

Renegade will begin filling multi-million dollar orders for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program in the next several months.

"As the materials become more broadly used by the military, the commercial companies become more confident in the product," says Gray.

An expected ramp-up in sales to commercial aviation customers could add as many as 160 new jobs over the next five years at Renegade. The company currently employs 15 at its $5-million dollar manufacturing facility.

The company has hired four new employees, all former auto workers, this year through the Dayton Development Coalition and the Montgomery County Job Center. Many of its future employees could also be hired through a similar process, says Gray.

"We are working with the Montgomery County Job Center to find and re-train displaced auto workers," she says.

Opened in 2008, Renegade specializes in a unique manufacturing process for high temperature composite materials that reduces many of the toxic chemicals and volatile organic compounds that made it so expensive in the past. Owners Robert Gray and Eric Collins have spent 30 years in the aerospace industry.

Source: Laura Gray, Renegade Materials
Writer: Val Prevish

Diamond Polymers bounces back in Akron

Diamond Polymers is bouncing back, adding to Akron's growing reputation as "the polymer capital of the world."

The national economic problems of 2008 had forced the company to reduce its manpower, says Founder/CEO Alan Woll. But acquisition of a product line from a competitor -- Centrex from INEOS ABS of Addyston, Ohio -- enabled hiring in '09 and '10, resulting in total employment of 65.

"We updated our workforce," Woll says.

And with $400,000 in five-year notes from the City of Akron, Diamond Polymers will continue to advance, says COO Michael Neumann, who adds the city has been "very, very good to us."

Woll started the company in 1986. It specializes in high-quality thermoplastic materials and resins.

Wolls says the polymer industry, plus related resources at the University of Akron, Case Western Reserve University and Kent State University are important assets to the Akron region, once known as the "rubber capital of the world."

Diamond Polymers conducts a five-year fellowship with the University of Akron, home of the National Polymer Innovation Center, to sponsor a student who needs additional, hands-on polymer knowledge.

"That's a win-win for both of us," Woll says.

Sources: Alan Woll and Michael Neumann, Diamond Polymers
Writer: Gabriella Jacobs

Quickstep plans expansion in Dayton to meet aviation, automotive market needs

Even in the high tech world of aerospace manufacturing, you still need to kick the tires occasionally.

Quickstep Composites, based in Australia, is expanding its North American headquarters in Dayton to provide a space for potential aviation and, eventually, auto industry customers to observe their unique process of curing composite materials without using an autoclave.

"It's our test drive facility," says Dale Brosius, North American chief operating officer of Quickstep Technologies.

Quickstep has signed a partnership and license agreement with Vector Composites Inc. of Dayton for the use of its Quickstep Process for development and manufacturing of advanced composite components. The products are aimed primarily at the aviation industry.

The process uses a manufacturing method that does not require the extreme conditions necessary in the traditional autoclave process, which has been the industry standard for manufacturing composites for many years. Eliminating an autoclave can save as much as 50 percent on the cost of the process, says Brosius, while still producing reliable mission-critical parts for high tech users such as the military.

Vector and Quickstep were recently awarded a major United States Air Force Small Business Innovation Research Phase II program grant, expected to total about $4 million over a 27-month period.

Vector is the lead contractor and Quickstep is the principal subcontractor to conduct the joint research program, which will focus on process qualification of bismaleimide and epoxy resin carbon fiber reinforced composite materials using the Quickstep Process for application to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.

Over the next three to four years, Quickstep expects to hire 20 to 25 new employees in areas such as engineering, technical support, supervision and sales, says Brosius, adding that the company sees its presence in Dayton as a long-term partnership.

"It makes sense for us to be here because there is a fair number of composites companies right here," he says.

Source: Dale Brosius, Quickstep Technologies
Writer: Val Prevish

Pyrograf dreams of role with Chevy Volt

Pyrograf Products is already the world's third-largest producer of carbon fibers, with a wide range of applications for its products.

If fate smiles on the Dayton company, Pyrograf could soon pick up another key application: material for the lithium ion battery that powers the all-electric Chevy Volt.

Pyrograf was spun off as subsidiary to Applied Sciences Inc. in 1999, and became an independent company in 2002. Since then, with research and development support by ASI, the company has produced carbon nanotubes for growing military and commercial products.

"We have striven throughout the course of our company to develop a low-cost manufacturing technology for this material," says president Max Lake. "The larger the tube the more efficient it is, and we've settled on these larger tubes."

Carbon nanotubes can improve the properties of polymers and act as either an insulator or a conductor -- for both heat and electricity.

The company's 25-year relationship with General Motors resulted in GM's licensing of its carbon fiber patents for use in automotive components. But will Pyrograf's materials ultimately make it into the Volt?

"That's our dream," says Lake. "And another part of the dream is that the Chevy Volt will be accepted in the market."

In the meantime, the company continues to sell its materials for products such as tennis rackets, golf clubs and stereo speakers -- as well as defense applications.

The company has benefited from crucial state funding over the years, including commercialization and research funds through the Ohio Third Frontier.

Together, Pyrograf and ASI -- located across the street from each other -- employ 17.

Source: Max Lake, Pyrograf Products and Applied Sciences Inc.
Writer: Gene Monteith

AlphaMirror's dimming technology reflects the future

Usually, a glance in the rear-view mirror reveals what's in the past. But that's not at all the case for AlphaMirror. The Kent-based liquid crystal spin-off looks at its new, auto-dimming mirror technology, and sees the future.

AlphaMirror CEO and President Yehuda Borenstein says the company is focusing its work on changing the market for rear-view mirrors — one liquid crystal at a time.

Using technology developed at nearby Kent State University, the mirror will automatically adjust, depending how much light is available, using a liquid crystal display. Unlike a computer, there is only one pixel. And the panel is made of plastic, not glass.

"The tricks are in the details — how well you get the clear state and how well you get the dark state," Borenstein says, adding that auto-dimming mirrors have been around for a while."Our advantages are lower cost, a lighter weight and less power consumption."

AlphaMirror has teamed up with its parent company, AlphaMicron, and Michigan-based Magna Mirrors to develop Digital Mirror. The collaboration netted a $1 million grant from the Ohio Third Frontier initiative to develop and test the special dimming mirror. Borenstein expects the technology to reshape the entire industry.

"That's why we've had such success — people are very interested," he says.

AlphaMirror currently employs two people, but "soon we will grow to three or four" employees, says Borenstein. More employees will be added when the product goes to market within the next few years.

"We've teamed with Magna, the largest rear-view mirror manufacturer in the world," he says. "The potential is good, now the question is can we make it. I think we can. And I think we will."

Source: Yehuda Borenstein
Writer: hiVelocity staff

Maverick runs wild in polymer innovation

Maverick Corp. lives up to its motto "Where Innovation Runs Wild" by developing and producing high-temperature polymer materials for the aerospace and other industries.

The Blue Ash-based company was founded in 1993 by Eric Collins and Dr. Robert Gray, both former GE Aircraft engine engineers. The pair operates 40,000 sq. ft. of research and manufacturing space where the company's high-tech workers develop advanced materials and transition those technologies to the automotive, chemical, medical and aerospace industries.

"Maverick caters mostly to aerospace customers who desire to replace metal parts with lighter weight polymer composites for high temperature applications typically in the range of 400 degrees Fahrenheit to over 700 degrees Fahrenheit, and industrial and aerospace customers who need to solve high temperature friction and wear problems," Collins says.

Some of the company's clients include, Boeing Company, Chromalloy, Cytec, Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Fiber Innovations, GE Transportation, GKN Aerospace, Pratt and Whitney and Raytheon. The company manufactures resin in lot quantities from 10 to 10,000 pounds.

The company has steadily grown over its lifetime, and Collins expects big gains in the near future. It was founded in the Hamilton County Business Center incubator in Norwood with a 2,000-square-foot facility. In 2006 Maverick bought a small division of Goodrich Corporation in Akron.

"Maverick currently has over 30 employees. We have grown from less than 10 employees four years ago and we expect to grow employment another 15 to 25 percent by the end of 2011," he says.

Source: Maverick Corporation founder Eric Collins
Writer: Feoshia Henderson

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