NASA Works With New Company to Bring Nanotube Technology to the Commercial Marketplace

Nov 07, 2006, 00:00 ET from NASA

    GREENBELT, Md., Nov. 7 /PRNewswire/ -- As researchers gather for the
 National Nano Engineering Conference in Boston November 9-10, they will
 have the opportunity to learn about how a NASA-developed innovative process
 is making a big impact in nanotechnology.
     Earlier this year, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt,
 Maryland -- a sponsor of and exhibitor at the NASA Tech Briefs conference
 -- licensed its patented technique for manufacturing high-quality
 single-walled carbon nanotubes (CNTs) to Idaho Space Materials (ISM) in
 Boise. Now the CNTs based on this process are being used by researchers and
 companies that are working on the next generation of composite polymers,
 metals, and ceramics that will impact almost every facet of life.
     One of the basic nanotechnology structures, a carbon nanotube is a
 graphite sheet one atomic layer thick of carbon that is wrapped on itself
 to create an extraordinarily long, thin, strong tube. Although CNTs were
 discovered 15 years ago, their use has been limited due to the complex,
 dangerous, and expensive methods for their production.
     However, Goddard researcher Dr. Jeannette Benavides developed a
 simpler, safer, and much less costly manufacturing process for
 single-walled CNTs. The key to the innovation developed by Dr. Benavides
 was the ability to produce bundles of CNTs without using a metal catalyst,
 dramatically reducing pre- and post-production costs while generating
 higher yields of better quality product. This capability was of particular
 interest to Wayne Whitt, who was looking for an innovation with which to
 start an advanced materials company.
     "Licensing NASA's technology allowed us to begin operations and rapidly
 commercialize an innovative product without the traditional R&D costs and
 time," said Mr. Whitt, who founded ISM. "We were able to focus on process
 enhancement and commercialization, which resulted in significant
 improvements in yield and production capacity without sacrificing product
     Having successfully commercialized NASA's manufacturing process to
 increase production capacity while maintaining quality, ISM can produce
 single-walled CNTs at a rate of 50 grams per hour. These CNTs then can be
 used in a wide range of applications.
     "ISM believes that carbon nanotubes will be a building block for a
 better world, making people's lives better through a wide range of uses,
 including medical advances, fuel cells, video displays, solar cells, and a
 host of other applications," explained ISM vice president Roger Smith.
 "Getting single- walled CNTs into the hands of researchers will help
 accelerate their transition from a conceptual idea to a practical product,
 and that's why we offer our product at a reduced price for researchers."
     "I'm very excited to see that this agreement is now making CNTs more
 readily available, particularly for academic and other research programs,"
 said Dr. Benavides, who demonstrated the technology to ISM and provided
 expertise during the company's commercialization of her technology. "The
 fact that they now have access to lower cost CNTs bodes well for the future
 of nanotechnology."
     This technology transfer success story was made possible by the efforts
 of NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program (IPP), which has a two-part
 focus: (1) forming partnerships between NASA and industry, academia, or
 other government agencies to support the space program and (2) transferring
 NASA technology to new applications.
     "NASA is committed to working with small businesses so they may be
 successful. It's good for technology, for NASA, and for the U.S. economy,"
 said Nona Minnifield Cheeks, chief of IPP's office at Goddard.