Three PNNL-developed Technologies Licensed via Startup America

Source:  PNNL Press Release, November 21, 2011.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has signed option agreements with three companies that will lead to products designed to increase the storage capacity of batteries used to power portable devices and electric vehicles, reduce the cost of fuel cells used to generate electricity from hydrogen, and detect pests hidden behind walls in buildings.

The agreements are part of the White House’s Startup America initiative, which was launched in January and is designed to help young companies grow, move innovative technologies into the marketplace and create good-paying jobs in the United States. The PNNL-developed technologies were made available the on the laboratory’s Available Technologies website as well as on DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website, the Energy Innovation Portal.

“PNNL is focused on driving emerging technologies toward outcomes that solve issues of national importance,” said Cheryl Cejka, PNNL’s director of technology commercialization. “We have a long history of working closely with entrepreneurs and early stage companies to develop and adapt our innovations into new or improved products and services. These three Startup America options are just a few of our latest examples.”

Vorbeck Materials, based in Jessup, MD, optioned a PNNL-developed method for building tiny titanium oxide and carbon structures that greatly improve the performance of lithium ion batteries. The rechargeable batteries are widely used in portable devices such as laptops, and are used in most electric vehicles. Vorbeck, a manufacturer and developer of applications using its proprietary graphene material, optioned the technology for use in a graphene-based electrode for lithium air and lithium sulfur batteries. The new material stores twice as much electricity at high charge/discharge rates as current lithium ion batteries, and creates increased battery capacity and a longer cycle life.

A PNNL technology that supports the minimization of high-cost platinum use in polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells was optioned by startup Evaxa Energy Systems, LLC. Headquartered in Corona Del Mar, Calif., Evaxa optioned the fuel cell technology with the goal of incorporating it into a low-cost PEM fuel cell. PEM fuel cells are primarily used for backup power. The optioned technology reduces the cost of manufacturing the fuel cells by up to one-third without decreasing overall performance, and improves stability and life of the fuel cell.

A third option was granted based on PNNL’s award-winning millimeter wave technology. Originally developed to protect air travelers, the technology utilizes millimeter waves that penetrate clothing and reflect off the body, sending signals back to a transceiver. Newly formed VisiRay, located in Corvallis, Ore., signed an option agreement for a new application of the technology. The company’s business plan is based on manufacturing devices to detect pests in buildings. Each year, pests cause many millions of dollars in damage to homes and commercial buildings. If successfully developed, VisiRay’s intended products will allow inspectors to see through drywall particle boards, and view clear images of pests on the other side of the wall. The company was started by University of Oregon Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship MBA students participating in PNNL’s University Technology Entrepreneurship Program.

As part of the Startup America Partnership, DOE initiated the “Next Top Energy Innovator” program, which reduces the cost of options to license available patents to U.S. start-up companies to $1,000-a fraction of the usual cost. The agreement provides the company a one-year to option to obtain an exclusive license to the technology for a specified field of use.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is a Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory where interdisciplinary teams advance science and technology and deliver solutions to America’s most intractable problems in energy, the environment and national security. PNNL employs 4,800 staff, has an annual budget of nearly $1.1 billion, and has been managed by Ohio-based Battelle since the lab’s inception in 1965.