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
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.