A start-up firm developing anticorrosion coatings, AnCatt Inc., based in Newark, Del., stole the show at the inaugural green chemistry business plan competition, part of the annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference held on June 18–20 in Washington, D.C.
“Our goal is to encourage implementation of green chemistry and engineering and to do so in a way that makes sound business sense,” comments Robert Peoples, director of the American Chemical Society’s Green Chemistry Institute, which sponsored the conference. “We are seeking to illustrate that green chemistry should be viewed as a solid investment, both for the bottom line and for the environment, and we are inviting people to create rigorous business plans to help make that happen.”
AnCatt was crowned the award winner for its conducting-polymer-based anticorrosion paint system to replace environmentally problematic chromate, lead, and cadmium paint pigments. The award includes a $40,000 prize.
For the competition, business plans from 15 companies were judged in a preliminary round. Four finalists were then invited to the conference in Washington, D.C., to make formal presentations. A three-member panel judged the finalists with input from scorecards filled out by members of the audience.
AnCatt’s multilayer anticorrosion technology for ships, aircraft, and structural steel is centered on polyaniline nanoparticles dispersed in paint or other coatings, explained business development manager Sue Wang during the firm’s presentation. Scientists had been exploring polyaniline as a corrosion inhibitor for 30 years, she said, but until now no one had come up with a formulation that works. The secret, she noted, is creating uniform polyaniline nanoparticles.
In the past, irregularly shaped polyaniline nanoparticles of a mishmash of sizes allowed metal ions to sneak through and corrosion to take hold. But AnCatt’s process makes uniform, olive-shaped nanoparticles that form an interlocking barrier to prevent metal-ion migration and corrosion. In lab tests, AnCatt’s system outperforms current environmentally compliant zinc/zinc oxide alternatives, Wang said, as well as traditional hexavalent chromate pigments.
Michael Lefenfeld, president and chief executive officer of SiGNa Chemistry, organized the award program. The contest is designed to showcase “real answers to real-world problems,” Lefenfeld explains. Society is looking for the best solutions to problems in diverse arenas, such as clean energy, potable water, cheaper medicine, and lower emissions, he notes. One of the biggest challenges for innovators, Lefenfeld tells C&EN, is gaining practical insights on securing financial backing and how to grow a business.
AnCatt’s Wang was exhilarated by the competition, she tells C&EN, but also drained by all the work it took to prepare the presentation. AnCatt will put the prize money toward legal costs to secure intellectual property and other expenses related to the technology, she said. She hopes winning the competition will draw the interest of capital investors. “We still need funds for commercializing current products, developing new technologies, and for setting up a nice coating research and development center we’ve been dreaming about.”
The contest’s runner up, SafeLiCell of College Park, Md., received $10,000 for its plan to commercialize Lithium Flex, a solid-state polymer electrolyte designed to build lighter, more flexible, and safer lithium-ion batteries. Developed at the University of Maryland by Aaron Fisher, Mian Khalid, and Peter Kofinas, Lithium Flex includes a block copolymer impregnated with a lithium salt and a sulfur-based ionic liquid. The combination avoids overheating and combustion problems that have occurred with some liquid electrolyte lithium-ion batteries. SafeLiCell’s initial target market is medical devices such as pacemakers and insulin pumps; the company plans to expand to portable electronics such as cell phones.
Another finalist, Sunnyfuels of Toledo, Ohio, presented its plan for commercializing solar-powered water electrolyzers to generate hydrogen to power fuel cells. The company’s proprietary nickel alloy catalyst and proton-exchange membrane technology reduces H2 production costs up to 40 % compared with current commercial technologies, according to the company. Sunnyfuels aims to develop electrolyzers for fuel cells that power telecommunication towers.
H2OPE Biofuels, based in Denver, presented its technology for zero-emissions H2 production from engineered algae. Developed originally at the Colorado School of Mines, the technology includes a directed-evolution approach with high-throughput screening assay to develop algae with optimized hydrogenase enzymes for making H2. The company plans to produce H2 for industrial gas companies that service the petroleum, chemical, and steel industries.
Lefenfeld says he was thrilled by the warm reception received by the business plan competition and is thinking ahead to improve next year’s event by increasing participation and the dollar amount of the cash awards.