Nano-engineered fibers reduce the cost of pollution-control products
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — After five years of research and development, MemPro, a nanotech company with headquarters here in Summit County, last week started producing ceramic nanofibers in a pilot facility in Akron, Ohio.
The products efficiently reduce exhaust pollutants from engines and from power-generating facilities at a lower cost than existing metal-based catalytic filter technology.
“We have two brands of fibers that we make by a polymeric/ceramic process developed over the past five years,” said MemPro CEO John Finley. “Our patented PreciseFiber™ manufacturing process is unique and beginning to serve automotive, energy, chemical and pharmaceutical markets worldwide.”
The brands are:
- nCeramic™ materials that strengthen, insulate and enhance flexible displays, coatings and fabrics.
- nCATfiber™ materials that allow highly efficient use of catalysts for pollution control, chemical & pharmaceutical production and energy storage.
While the production is in Ohio, the company headquarters are here in Summit County. Finley said all strategic planning, marketing, finance and capital development work is taking place here.
“It has been a great place for us to do all of these functions so far,” he said. “Summit County … is where the concepts for our marketing and expansion happen … Summit County seems to be the best place to do strategic planning and marketing. Also … there is an entrepreneurial spirit among investors here. I attribute this spirit to many successful entrepreneurs, who choose to live here after running successful businesses elsewhere.
“As for customers, our challenge is similar to BASF, the large German company. No consumer will ever see ceramic nanofibers or know that they are a part of a product. Our nCeramic and nCATfiber materials make other products work better and more efficiently,” Finley said.
“That said, we do have some very large customers lined up to purchase our products. These are major players in automotive, engine, catalyst, energy and pharmaceutical markets. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to mention their names because we are under non-disclosure agreements with all of our customers,” he said. ”The nature of our materials is so unique that customers do not want us publicizing their names because they do not want their competitors to know what they are doing.”
Finley said the use of MemPro’s nCATfiber materials can reduce the need for expensive catalyst metals by 20 to 80 percent. Current technology uses expensive metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium, which cost of $1,000 or more per ounce.
The nano-engineered ceramic fibers can reduce the cost of a catalytic converter by 15 to 20 percent.
“In the automotive industry such reductions are significant. We are working with two of the five automotive catalyst companies, and they are ready to validate our production samples in their U.S. and European test facilities,” Finley said.
New EPA regulations for small engines, including lawnmowers and chainsaws will take effect in 2011, potentially creating a $10 million market, Finley said. MemPro was part of a group of companies that prepared a demonstration of nanotechnology for President Obama. The 2011 federal budget at one point included $1.8 billion for nanotech research and development under a national nanotech initiative.
“Last year when we were exploring sites for our pilot manufacturing facility, we did not realize how quickly these customers would want us to scale up production,” he said. “Both of the automotive catalyst companies have set goals we need to meet in order to be an ongoing supplier to them. Our pilot system, which became operational (last week), is designed to produce 800 grams of ceramic nanofibers in a month (a little less than two pounds). To serve either automotive catalyst company we need to make 1 million grams (2,200 pounds) per month, or 1,250 times our current capacity.”
This past summer, built its first PreciseFiber™ production system in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a growing company in need of capital, MemPro chose Albuquerque because a highly skilled, 400-person company there offered to help design and build our first production system.
“The owner of the company chose to take common stock in MemPro rather than have us pay him $250,000 for the pilot system. This helped us get a pilot system built without borrowing money or raising capital elsewhere. Then he agreed to have his purchasing professionals negotiate the purchase of all the ancillary equipment and supplies we needed,” Finley said.
“In August we chose Akron, Ohio, as the site for our pilot production facility so that we can have the assistance of The University of Akron (our research partner) in optimizing production, and we shipped the PreciseFiber system to Ohio,” Finley continued. ”Pilot production means that we are both producing salable product for customers and learning how to optimize the manufacturing process. Northeast Ohio has a number of polymer producing companies (one of them has become a customer for our nCeramic material), and we need all the help we can from industry experts to execute our manufacturing scale up plan and to meet the demand from customers,” he concluded.
In a unique approach, environmental groups, the government and private companies have been collaborating to establish a flexible regulatory framework for the emerging technology. Read about those efforts at the Environmental Defense Fund web site, and at the EPA online. The goal is to address any potential health and environmental risks proactively.
Filed under: business, Summit County Colorado Tagged: | John Finley, MemPro, nanotechnology, pollution control technology, Summit County business, Summit County Colorado, Summit County News, Technology