Category Archives: business

IBM weighs in with plans for a 7nm computer chip

On the heels of Intel’s announcement about a deal utilizing their 14nm low-power manufacturing process and speculations about a 10nm computer chip (my July 9, 2014 posting), IBM makes an announcement about a 7nm chip as per this July 10, 2014 news item on Azonano,

IBM today [July 10, 2014] announced it is investing $3 billion over the next 5 years in two broad research and early stage development programs to push the limits of chip technology needed to meet the emerging demands of cloud computing and Big Data systems. These investments will push IBM’s semiconductor innovations from today’s breakthroughs into the advanced technology leadership required for the future.

A very comprehensive July 10, 2014 news release lays out the company’s plans for this $3B investment representing 10% of IBM’s total research budget,

The first research program is aimed at so-called “7 nanometer and beyond” silicon technology that will address serious physical challenges that are threatening current semiconductor scaling techniques and will impede the ability to manufacture such chips. The second is focused on developing alternative technologies for post-silicon era chips using entirely different approaches, which IBM scientists and other experts say are required because of the physical limitations of silicon based semiconductors.

Cloud and big data applications are placing new challenges on systems, just as the underlying chip technology is facing numerous significant physical scaling limits.  Bandwidth to memory, high speed communication and device power consumption are becoming increasingly challenging and critical.

The teams will comprise IBM Research scientists and engineers from Albany and Yorktown, New York; Almaden, California; and Europe. In particular, IBM will be investing significantly in emerging areas of research that are already underway at IBM such as carbon nanoelectronics, silicon photonics, new memory technologies, and architectures that support quantum and cognitive computing. [emphasis mine]

These teams will focus on providing orders of magnitude improvement in system level performance and energy efficient computing. In addition, IBM will continue to invest in the nanosciences and quantum computing–two areas of fundamental science where IBM has remained a pioneer for over three decades.

7 nanometer technology and beyond

IBM Researchers and other semiconductor experts predict that while challenging, semiconductors show promise to scale from today’s 22 nanometers down to 14 and then 10 nanometers in the next several years.  However, scaling to 7 nanometers and perhaps below, by the end of the decade will require significant investment and innovation in semiconductor architectures as well as invention of new tools and techniques for manufacturing.

“The question is not if we will introduce 7 nanometer technology into manufacturing, but rather how, when, and at what cost?” said John Kelly, senior vice president, IBM Research. “IBM engineers and scientists, along with our partners, are well suited for this challenge and are already working on the materials science and device engineering required to meet the demands of the emerging system requirements for cloud, big data, and cognitive systems. This new investment will ensure that we produce the necessary innovations to meet these challenges.”

“Scaling to 7nm and below is a terrific challenge, calling for deep physics competencies in processing nano materials affinities and characteristics. IBM is one of a very few companies who has repeatedly demonstrated this level of science and engineering expertise,” said Richard Doherty, technology research director, The Envisioneering Group.

Bridge to a “Post-Silicon” Era

Silicon transistors, tiny switches that carry information on a chip, have been made smaller year after year, but they are approaching a point of physical limitation. Their increasingly small dimensions, now reaching the nanoscale, will prohibit any gains in performance due to the nature of silicon and the laws of physics. Within a few more generations, classical scaling and shrinkage will no longer yield the sizable benefits of lower power, lower cost and higher speed processors that the industry has become accustomed to.

With virtually all electronic equipment today built on complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) technology, there is an urgent need for new materials and circuit architecture designs compatible with this engineering process as the technology industry nears physical scalability limits of the silicon transistor.

Beyond 7 nanometers, the challenges dramatically increase, requiring a new kind of material to power systems of the future, and new computing platforms to solve problems that are unsolvable or difficult to solve today. Potential alternatives include new materials such as carbon nanotubes, and non-traditional computational approaches such as neuromorphic computing, cognitive computing, machine learning techniques, and the science behind quantum computing.

As the leader in advanced schemes that point beyond traditional silicon-based computing, IBM holds over 500 patents for technologies that will drive advancements at 7nm and beyond silicon — more than twice the nearest competitor. These continued investments will accelerate the invention and introduction into product development for IBM’s highly differentiated computing systems for cloud, and big data analytics.

Several exploratory research breakthroughs that could lead to major advancements in delivering dramatically smaller, faster and more powerful computer chips, include quantum computing, neurosynaptic computing, silicon photonics, carbon nanotubes, III-V technologies, low power transistors and graphene:

Quantum Computing

The most basic piece of information that a typical computer understands is a bit. Much like a light that can be switched on or off, a bit can have only one of two values: “1″ or “0.” Described as superposition, this special property of qubits enables quantum computers to weed through millions of solutions all at once, while desktop PCs would have to consider them one at a time.

IBM is a world leader in superconducting qubit-based quantum computing science and is a pioneer in the field of experimental and theoretical quantum information, fields that are still in the category of fundamental science – but one that, in the long term, may allow the solution of problems that are today either impossible or impractical to solve using conventional machines. The team recently demonstrated the first experimental realization of parity check with three superconducting qubits, an essential building block for one type of quantum computer.

Neurosynaptic Computing

Bringing together nanoscience, neuroscience, and supercomputing, IBM and university partners have developed an end-to-end ecosystem including a novel non-von Neumann architecture, a new programming language, as well as applications. This novel technology allows for computing systems that emulate the brain’s computing efficiency, size and power usage. IBM’s long-term goal is to build a neurosynaptic system with ten billion neurons and a hundred trillion synapses, all while consuming only one kilowatt of power and occupying less than two liters of volume.

Silicon Photonics

IBM has been a pioneer in the area of CMOS integrated silicon photonics for over 12 years, a technology that integrates functions for optical communications on a silicon chip, and the IBM team has recently designed and fabricated the world’s first monolithic silicon photonics based transceiver with wavelength division multiplexing.  Such transceivers will use light to transmit data between different components in a computing system at high data rates, low cost, and in an energetically efficient manner.

Silicon nanophotonics takes advantage of pulses of light for communication rather than traditional copper wiring and provides a super highway for large volumes of data to move at rapid speeds between computer chips in servers, large datacenters, and supercomputers, thus alleviating the limitations of congested data traffic and high-cost traditional interconnects.

Businesses are entering a new era of computing that requires systems to process and analyze, in real-time, huge volumes of information known as Big Data. Silicon nanophotonics technology provides answers to Big Data challenges by seamlessly connecting various parts of large systems, whether few centimeters or few kilometers apart from each other, and move terabytes of data via pulses of light through optical fibers.

III-V technologies

IBM researchers have demonstrated the world’s highest transconductance on a self-aligned III-V channel metal-oxide semiconductor (MOS) field-effect transistors (FETs) device structure that is compatible with CMOS scaling. These materials and structural innovation are expected to pave path for technology scaling at 7nm and beyond.  With more than an order of magnitude higher electron mobility than silicon, integrating III-V materials into CMOS enables higher performance at lower power density, allowing for an extension to power/performance scaling to meet the demands of cloud computing and big data systems.

Carbon Nanotubes

IBM Researchers are working in the area of carbon nanotube (CNT) electronics and exploring whether CNTs can replace silicon beyond the 7 nm node.  As part of its activities for developing carbon nanotube based CMOS VLSI circuits, IBM recently demonstrated — for the first time in the world — 2-way CMOS NAND gates using 50 nm gate length carbon nanotube transistors.

IBM also has demonstrated the capability for purifying carbon nanotubes to 99.99 percent, the highest (verified) purities demonstrated to date, and transistors at 10 nm channel length that show no degradation due to scaling–this is unmatched by any other material system to date.

Carbon nanotubes are single atomic sheets of carbon rolled up into a tube. The carbon nanotubes form the core of a transistor device that will work in a fashion similar to the current silicon transistor, but will be better performing. They could be used to replace the transistors in chips that power data-crunching servers, high performing computers and ultra fast smart phones.

Carbon nanotube transistors can operate as excellent switches at molecular dimensions of less than ten nanometers – the equivalent to 10,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair and less than half the size of the leading silicon technology. Comprehensive modeling of the electronic circuits suggests that about a five to ten times improvement in performance compared to silicon circuits is possible.

Graphene

Graphene is pure carbon in the form of a one atomic layer thick sheet.  It is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity, and it is also remarkably strong and flexible.  Electrons can move in graphene about ten times faster than in commonly used semiconductor materials such as silicon and silicon germanium. Its characteristics offer the possibility to build faster switching transistors than are possible with conventional semiconductors, particularly for applications in the handheld wireless communications business where it will be a more efficient switch than those currently used.

Recently in 2013, IBM demonstrated the world’s first graphene based integrated circuit receiver front end for wireless communications. The circuit consisted of a 2-stage amplifier and a down converter operating at 4.3 GHz.

Next Generation Low Power Transistors

In addition to new materials like CNTs, new architectures and innovative device concepts are required to boost future system performance. Power dissipation is a fundamental challenge for nanoelectronic circuits. To explain the challenge, consider a leaky water faucet — even after closing the valve as far as possible water continues to drip — this is similar to today’s transistor, in that energy is constantly “leaking” or being lost or wasted in the off-state.

A potential alternative to today’s power hungry silicon field effect transistors are so-called steep slope devices. They could operate at much lower voltage and thus dissipate significantly less power. IBM scientists are researching tunnel field effect transistors (TFETs). In this special type of transistors the quantum-mechanical effect of band-to-band tunneling is used to drive the current flow through the transistor. TFETs could achieve a 100-fold power reduction over complementary CMOS transistors, so integrating TFETs with CMOS technology could improve low-power integrated circuits.

Recently, IBM has developed a novel method to integrate III-V nanowires and heterostructures directly on standard silicon substrates and built the first ever InAs/Si tunnel diodes and TFETs using InAs as source and Si as channel with wrap-around gate as steep slope device for low power consumption applications.

“In the next ten years computing hardware systems will be fundamentally different as our scientists and engineers push the limits of semiconductor innovations to explore the post-silicon future,” said Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president, IBM Systems and Technology Group. “IBM Research and Development teams are creating breakthrough innovations that will fuel the next era of computing systems.”

IBM’s historic contributions to silicon and semiconductor innovation include the invention and/or first implementation of: the single cell DRAM, the “Dennard scaling laws” underpinning “Moore’s Law”, chemically amplified photoresists, copper interconnect wiring, Silicon on Insulator, strained engineering, multi core microprocessors, immersion lithography, high speed silicon germanium (SiGe), High-k gate dielectrics, embedded DRAM, 3D chip stacking, and Air gap insulators.

IBM researchers also are credited with initiating the era of nano devices following the Nobel prize winning invention of the scanning tunneling microscope which enabled nano and atomic scale invention and innovation.

IBM will also continue to fund and collaborate with university researchers to explore and develop the future technologies for the semiconductor industry. In particular, IBM will continue to support and fund university research through private-public partnerships such as the NanoElectornics Research Initiative (NRI), and the Semiconductor Advanced Research Network (STARnet), and the Global Research Consortium (GRC) of the Semiconductor Research Corporation.

I highlighted ‘memory systems’ as this brings to mind HP Labs and their major investment in ‘memristive’ technologies noted in my June 26, 2014 posting,

… During a two-hour presentation held a year and a half ago, they laid out how the computer might work, its benefits, and the expectation that about 75 percent of HP Labs personnel would be dedicated to this one project. “At the end, Meg {Meg Whitman, CEO of HP Labs] turned to [Chief Financial Officer] Cathie Lesjak and said, ‘Find them more money,’” says John Sontag, the vice president of systems research at HP, who attended the meeting and is in charge of bringing the Machine to life. “People in Labs see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The Machine is based on the memristor and other associated technologies.

Getting back to IBM, there’s this analysis of the $3B investment ($600M/year for five years) by Alex Konrad in a July 10, 2014 article for Forbes (Note: A link has been removed),

When IBM … announced a $3 billion commitment to even tinier semiconductor chips that no longer depended on silicon on Wednesday, the big news was that IBM’s putting a lot of money into a future for chips where Moore’s Law no longer applies. But on second glance, the move to spend billions on more experimental ideas like silicon photonics and carbon nanotubes shows that IBM’s finally shifting large portions of its research budget into more ambitious and long-term ideas.

… IBM tells Forbes the $3 billion isn’t additional money being added to its R&D spend, an area where analysts have told Forbes they’d like to see more aggressive cash commitments in the future. IBM will still spend about $6 billion a year on R&D, 6% of revenue. Ten percent of that research budget, however, now has to come from somewhere else to fuel these more ambitious chip projects.

Neal Ungerleider’s July 11, 2014 article for Fast Company focuses on the neuromorphic computing and quantum computing aspects of this $3B initiative (Note: Links have been removed),

The new R&D initiatives fall into two categories: Developing nanotech components for silicon chips for big data and cloud systems, and experimentation with “post-silicon” microchips. This will include research into quantum computers which don’t know binary code, neurosynaptic computers which mimic the behavior of living brains, carbon nanotubes, graphene tools and a variety of other technologies.

IBM’s investment is one of the largest for quantum computing to date; the company is one of the biggest researchers in the field, along with a Canadian company named D-Wave which is partnering with Google and NASA to develop quantum computer systems.

The curious can find D-Wave Systems here. There’s also a January 19, 2012 posting here which discusses the D-Wave’s situation at that time.

Final observation, these are fascinating developments especially for the insight they provide into the worries troubling HP Labs, Intel, and IBM as they jockey for position.

ETA July 14, 2014: Dexter Johnson has a July 11, 2014 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers]) about the IBM announcement and which features some responses he received from IBM officials to his queries,

While this may be a matter of fascinating speculation for investors, the impact on nanotechnology development  is going to be significant. To get a better sense of what it all means, I was able to talk to some of the key figures of IBM’s push in nanotechnology research.

I conducted e-mail interviews with Tze-Chiang (T.C.) Chen, vice president science & technology, IBM Fellow at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center and Wilfried Haensch, senior manager, physics and materials for logic and communications, IBM Research.

Silicon versus Nanomaterials

First, I wanted to get a sense for how long IBM envisioned sticking with silicon and when they expected the company would permanently make the move away from CMOS to alternative nanomaterials. Unfortunately, as expected, I didn’t get solid answers, except for them to say that new manufacturing tools and techniques need to be developed now.

He goes on to ask about carbon nanotubes and graphene. Interestingly, IBM does not have a wide range of electronics applications in mind for graphene.  I encourage you to read Dexter’s posting as Dexter got answers to some very astute and pointed questions.

Carbon nanotubes: OCSiAl’s deal in Korea and their effect on the body after one year

I have two news items related only by their focus on carbon nanotubes. First, there’s a July 3, 2014 news item on Azonano featuring OCSiAl’s deal with a Korean company announced at NANO KOREA 2014,

At NANO KOREA 2014 OCSiAl announced an unprecedentedly large-scale deal with Korean company Applied Carbon Nano Technology [ACN] Co., Ltd. – one of the key industry players.

OCSiAl, the dominating graphene tubes manufacturer, that successfully presented its products and technology in Europe and USA, now to enter Asian nanotech markets. At NANO KOREA 2014 the company introduced TUBALL, the universal nanomodifier of materials featuring >75% of single wall carbon nanotubes, and announced signing of supply agreement with Applied Carbon Nano Technology Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as ACN), a recognized future-oriented innovative company.

A July 3, 2014 OCSiAl news release, which originated the news item, describes the memorandum of understanding (MOU) in greater detail,

Under this MoU ACN would buy 100 kg of TUBALL. The upcoming deal is the first of OCSiAl’s Korean contracts to be performed in 2015 and it turns up the largest throughout SWCNT market, which annual turnover recently hardly reached 500 kg. The agreement is exceptionally significant as it opens fundamental opportunities for manufacturing of new nanomaterial-based product with the unique properties that were not even possible before.

“OCSiAl’s entry to Korean market required thorough preparation. We invested time and efforts to prove that our company, our technology and our products worth credibility, – says Viktor Kim, OCSiAl Vice President, – we urged major playmakers to take TUBALL for testing to verify the quality and effectiveness. We believe that ACN is more than an appropriate partner to start – they are experts at the market and they understand its future perspectives very clearly. We believe that mutually beneficial partnership with ACN will path the way for future contracts, since it will become indicative to other companies in Asia and all over the world”.

“It comes as no surprise that OCSiAl’s products here in Korea will be in a great demand soon. The country strives to become world’s leader in advanced technology, and we do realize the benefits of nanomaterial’s exploitation. TUBALL is a truly versatile additive which may be used across many market sectors, where adoption of new materials with top-class performance is essential”, – says Mr. Dae-Yeol Lee, CEO of ACN.

OCSiAl’s entering to Korean market will undoubtedly have a high-reaching impact on the industry. The recent merger with American Zyvex Technologies made OCSiAl the not only the world’s largest nanomaterial producer but a first-rate developer of modifiers of different materials based on carbon nanotubes. To its Korean partners OCSiAl offers TUBALL, the raw ‘as produced’ SWCNT material and masterbatches, which can be either custom-made or ready-to-use mixtures for different applications, including li-ion batteries, car tires, transparent conductive coatings and many others. “Since Korea is increasingly dynamic, our success here will build on continuous development of our product, – adds Viktor Kim, – And we are constantly working on new applications of graphene tubes to meet sophisticated demands of nanotech-savvy Korean consumers”.

OCSiAl’s Zyvex acquisition was mentioned in a June 23, 2014 posting here.

My second tidbit concerns a July 4, 2014 news item on Nanowerk about carbon nanotubes and their effect on the body (Note: A link has been removed),

Having perfected an isotope labeling method allowing extremely sensitive detection of carbon nanotubes in living organisms, CEA and CNRS researchers have looked at what happens to nanotubes after one year inside an animal. Studies in mice revealed that a very small percentage (0.75%) of the initial quantity of nanotubes inhaled crossed the pulmonary epithelial barrier and translocated to the liver, spleen, and bone marrow. Although these results cannot be extrapolated to humans, this work highlights the importance of developing ultrasensitive methods for assessing the behavior of nanoparticles in animals. It has been published in the journal ACS Nano (“Carbon Nanotube Translocation to Distant Organs after Pulmonary Exposure: Insights from in Situ 14C-Radiolabeling and Tissue Radioimaging”).

A July 1, 2014 CNRS [France Centre national de la recherche scientifique] press release, which originated the news item, describes both applications for carbon nanotubes and the experiment in greater detail,

Carbon nanotubes are highly specific nanoparticles with outstanding mechanical and electronic properties that make them suitable for use in a wide range of applications, from structural materials to certain electronic components. Their many present and future uses explain why research teams around the world are now focusing on their impact on human health and the environment.

Researchers from CEA and the CNRS joined forces to study the distribution over time of these nanoparticles in mice, following contamination by inhalation. They combined radiolabeling with radio imaging tools for optimum detection sensitivity. When making the carbon nanotubes, stable carbon (12C) atoms were replaced directly by radioactive carbon (14C) atoms in the very structure of the tubes. This method allows the use of carbon nanotubes similar to those produced in industry, but labeled with 14C. Radio imaging tools make it possible to detect up to twenty or so carbon nanotubes on an animal tissue sample.

A single dose of 20 µg [micrograms] of labeled nanotubes was administered at the start of the protocol, then monitored for one year. The carbon nanotubes were observed to translocate from the lungs to other organs, especially the liver, spleen, and bone marrow. The study demonstrates that these nanoparticles are capable of crossing the pulmonary epithelial barrier, or air-blood barrier. It was also observed that the quantity of carbon nanotubes in these organs rose steadily over time, thus demonstrating that these particles are not eliminated on this timescale. Further studies will have to determine whether this observation remains true beyond a year.

The CEA [French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission {Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives}] and CNRS teams have developed highly specific skills that enable them to study the health and environmental impact of nanoparticles from various angles. Nanotoxicology and nanoecotoxicology research such as this is both a priority for society and a scientific challenge, involving experimental approaches and still emerging concepts.

This work is conducted as part of CEA’s interdisciplinary Toxicology and Nanosciences programs. These are management, coordination and support structures set up to promote multidisciplinary approaches for studying the potential impact on living organisms of various components of industrial interest, including heavy metals, radionuclides, and new products.

At the CNRS, these concerns are reflected in particular in major initiatives such as the International Consortium for the Environmental Implications of Nano Technology (i-CEINT), a CNRS-led international initiative focusing on the ecotoxicology of nanoparticles. CNRS teams also have a long tradition of close involvement in matters relating to standards and regulations. Examples of this include the ANR NanoNORMA program, led by the CNRS, or ongoing work within the French C’Nano network.

For those who would either prefer or like to check out  the French language version of the July 1, 2014 CNRS press release (La biodistribution des nanotubes de carbone dans l’organisme), it can be found here.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Carbon Nanotube Translocation to Distant Organs after Pulmonary Exposure: Insights from in Situ 14C-Radiolabeling and Tissue Radioimaging by Bertrand Czarny, Dominique Georgin, Fannely Berthon, Gael Plastow, Mathieu Pinault, Gilles Patriarche, Aurélie Thuleau, Martine Mayne L’Hermite, Frédéric Taran, and Vincent Dive. ACS Nano, 2014, 8 (6), pp 5715–5724 DOI: 10.1021/nn500475u Publication Date (Web): May 22, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

The world’s largest nanotechnology business: OCSiAl and its Zyvex acquisition

I have taken the claim of being the world’s largest nanotechnology business at face value as this is not my area of expertise but there is at least one company specializing in the analysis of nanotechnology-based business which seems to support the company’s contention.

In any event, the acquisition by OCSiAl of Zyvex Technologies has resulted in the world’s largest nanotechnology business according to a June 19, 2014 news item on cemag.us,

OCSiAl, a technology manufacturer for the mass industrial production of graphene tubes, announces that it has acquired Zyvex Technologies, making the combined organization the largest nanotechnology company in the world. The partnership between OCSiAl and Zyvex Technologies will combine large scale manufacturing capabilities with commercialization expertise.

A June 16, 2014 Zyvex Technologies news release (scroll down the page and hopefully it will still be there), which originated the news item, describes the deal and proponents’ hopes and dreams in further detail (Note: Links have been removed),

The unprecedented partnership between OCSiAl and Zyvex Technologies will combine large scale manufacturing capabilities with commercialization expertise – unleashing limitless potential for enhanced consumer products across the globe.

OCSiAl is known for developing the world’s largest low cost and scalable production of graphene tubes under the brand name TUBALL®, while Zyvex Technologies is the acknowledged leader in the field of carbon nanomaterial applications. The latter’s nanotechnology-based products are already integrated into a diverse number of products, ranging from Easton sporting goods to Airbus next generation materials research. This acquisition will enable the mass availability of TUBALL® graphene tubes and provide endless advantages to customers across industries.

“From improved quality and durability of consumer goods to premier, high level projects, the combination of OCSiAl’s manufacturing capabilities and the scale and expertise of each company’s respective market, we are creating a vertically integrated organization that serves customers better with readily available nanotech products,” said Yuri Koropachinsky, President of OCSiAl. “Zyvex Technologies has built a tremendous team that we are excited to welcome into the OCSiAl family – and together, we will usher in a new age of technology for businesses and consumers alike.”

Graphene, a single atom thick sheet of carbon – proclaimed as the ‘wonder material of the 21st century’ by the American Chemical Society – makes batteries more powerful and long-lasting, construction materials lighter, polymers stronger, and improves the electrical and thermal conductivity of composites. In contrast with other technologies, many of its applications do not require changes in currently used equipment or processes. The integration of OCSiAl’s graphene tubes with Zyvex Technologies’ proven operations will allow for the creation of products with properties that significantly surpass what is currently available on the market.

“This is a landmark deal which will open the doors for further development and penetration of nanotechnology through a combination of technology and commercial excellence,” said Dr. Sanjay Mazumdar, CEO of the market research organization, Lucintel. “Businesses must consider the advantages that can be gained through the early adoption of new materials technology, otherwise they’ll watch on the sidelines as their competitors grow.”

Zyvex Technologies will continue to operate with its own distinct brand identity and product line while contributing to the growth of OCSiAl. The combined team will have a presence on six continents and will have 160 dedicated business and R&D staff who have the potential to dramatically change not only the market for carbon nanomaterials but a number of industries, creating new opportunities for carbon enhanced products. Founder and current chairman, Jim Von Ehr, will also join the OCSiAl Board of Directors.

“We are thrilled to join OCSiAl,” said Lance Criscuolo, President of Zyvex Technologies. “Zyvex was the first recognized nanomaterials company in the United States. Now with support from OCSiAl, Zyvex will be in an even better position to bring the potential of nanotechnology into powerful commercial reality.”

There is a June 17, 2014 posting about the deal by Nanalyze but before getting to the analysis, here’s some from the About Nanalyze page,

Nanalyze provides objective information about companies involved in disruptive technologies so that investors can make informed investment decisions.

Founded in 2003, Nanalyze started as a forum where investors could share information on companies involved in the nanotechnology space. Over time Nanalyze grew to over 3000 registered users who contributed to over 1900 different topics. In 2004 when nanotechnology became an emerging topic among investors,  Nanalyze was key in distributing objective information that helped differentiate real nanotechnology companies from “pump and dump” OTC stocks that attempted to capitalize on the hype surrounding nanotechnology.

10 years later,  Nanalyze has moved from a forum format to a publishing format so that our readers can better access information that will help them make more informed investment decisions. We have also expanded outside of just Nanotechnology to include additional disruptive technologies such as 3D Printing, Emerging Electronics,  Live Sciences, and Renewable Energy.

The June 17, 2014 Nanalyze posting provides historical context (Note: Links have been removed),

When George W. Bush signed the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act in 2003, it wasn’t too long after that before investors began driving up the price of any stock that contained any variation of the word nanotechnology. In a previous article, we highlighted 6 companies that used the hype surrounding nanotechnology to burn through vast amounts of money before leaving investors holding the proverbial bag. However, not all nanotechnology companies that were around prior to 2004 have perished. One company that claims to be the oldest nanotechnology company around, Zyvex Technologies, was just acquired yesterday by OCSiAl in what has been described as the creation of the world’s largest nanotechnology company.

The ins and outs of the Zyvex Technologies story are fascinating and I encourage you to read the whole posting. Here’s the conclusion (from the June 17, 2014 posting),

Zyvex seems to be following suit with past nanomaterial companies that target niche applications across multiple industries in hopes of capturing as much opportunity as quickly as possible. For some firms with truly innovative materials technology, an “Intel inside” approach may work where a licensing model is used to receive royalties off the product development efforts of others. For other firms, trying to target too many industry verticals leads to a lack focus and none of them manage to capture meaningful revenues. In this case Zyvex’s technology and products must have shown some promise for OCSiAl to purchase them though nothing is disclosed about the actual purchase price. Zyvex appears to have had around 13 employees when acquired bringing the total employees for the combined company to 160.

Nanalyze is hoping to followup in the future with a posting about OCSiAl, “a company that unveiled in November 2013 the world’s largest industrial plant for the synthesis of single walled carbon nanotubes (up to 10 tons per year)” (from the Nanalyze posting). For anyone who wants to ensure they see this upcoming post, I advise subscribing to the Nanalyze RSS.

Here’s my final bit about Zyvex Technologies. It is one of three entities according to the Zyvex website. Two of the three entities are now owned by other parties, Zyvex Technologies by OCSiAl and Zyvex Instruments by DCG Systems, presumably leaving Zyvex Labs to stand alone.

As for OCSiAl, there’s this on their LinkedIn profile,

OCSiAl is an international technology firm with operations in USA, UK, Germany, Russia, South Korea and headquarters in Luxembourg.[emphasis mine]

You can find the OCSiAl website (English language) here and their YouTube Channel here.

ETA June 26, 2014: As they promised, Nanalyze has published a June 25, 2014 posting with an analysis of OCSiAl.

Sandia National Laboratories looking for commercial partners to bring titanium dioxide nanoparticles (5 nm in diameter) to market

Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia Labs) doesn’t  ask directly but I think the call for partners is more than heavily implied. Let’s start with a June 17, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

Sandia National Laboratories has come up with an inexpensive way to synthesize titanium-dioxide nanoparticles and is seeking partners who can demonstrate the process at industrial scale for everything from solar cells to light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

Titanium-dioxide (TiO2) nanoparticles show great promise as fillers to tune the refractive index of anti-reflective coatings on signs and optical encapsulants for LEDs, solar cells and other optical devices. Optical encapsulants are coverings or coatings, usually made of silicone, that protect a device.

Industry has largely shunned TiO2 nanoparticles because they’ve been difficult and expensive to make, and current methods produce particles that are too large.

Sandia became interested in TiO2 for optical encapsulants because of its work on LED materials for solid-state lighting.

Current production methods for TiO2 often require high-temperature processing or costly surfactants — molecules that bind to something to make it soluble in another material, like dish soap does with fat.
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Those methods produce less-than-ideal nanoparticles that are very expensive, can vary widely in size and show significant particle clumping, called agglomeration.

Sandia’s technique, on the other hand, uses readily available, low-cost materials and results in nanoparticles that are small, roughly uniform in size and don’t clump.

“We wanted something that was low cost and scalable, and that made particles that were very small,” said researcher Todd Monson, who along with principal investigator Dale Huber patented the process in mid-2011 as “High-yield synthesis of brookite TiO2 nanoparticles.” [emphases mine]

A June 17, 2014 Sandia Labs news release, which originated the news item, goes on to describe the technology (Note: Links have been removed),

Their (Monson and Huber) method produces nanoparticles roughly 5 nanometers in diameter, approximately 100 times smaller than the wavelength of visible light, so there’s little light scattering, Monson said.

“That’s the advantage of nanoparticles — not just nanoparticles, but small nanoparticles,” he said.

Scattering decreases the amount of light transmission. Less scattering also can help extract more light, in the case of an LED, or capture more light, in the case of a solar cell.

TiO2 can increase the refractive index of materials, such as silicone in lenses or optical encapsulants. Refractive index is the ability of material to bend light. Eyeglass lenses, for example, have a high refractive index.

Practical nanoparticles must be able to handle different surfactants so they’re soluble in a wide range of solvents. Different applications require different solvents for processing.

“If someone wants to use TiO2 nanoparticles in a range of different polymers and applications, it’s convenient to have your particles be suspension-stable in a wide range of solvents as well,” Monson said. “Some biological applications may require stability in aqueous-based solvents, so it could be very useful to have surfactants available that can make the particles stable in water.”

The researchers came up with their synthesis technique by pooling their backgrounds — Huber’s expertise in nanoparticle synthesis and polymer chemistry and Monson’s knowledge of materials physics. The work was done under a Laboratory Directed Research and Development project Huber began in 2005.

“The original project goals were to investigate the basic science of nanoparticle dispersions, but when this synthesis was developed near the end of the project, the commercial applications were obvious,” Huber said. The researchers subsequently refined the process to make particles easier to manufacture.

Existing synthesis methods for TiO2 particles were too costly and difficult to scale up production. In addition, chemical suppliers ship titanium-dioxide nanoparticles dried and without surfactants, so particles clump together and are impossible to break up. “Then you no longer have the properties you want,” Monson said.

The researchers tried various types of alcohol as an inexpensive solvent to see if they could get a common titanium source, titanium isopropoxide, to react with water and alcohol.

The biggest challenge, Monson said, was figuring out how to control the reaction, since adding water to titanium isopropoxide most often results in a fast reaction that produces large chunks of TiO2, rather than nanoparticles. “So the trick was to control the reaction by controlling the addition of water to that reaction,” he said.

Some textbooks dismissed the titanium isopropoxide-water-alcohol method as a way of making TiO2 nanoparticles. Huber and Monson, however, persisted until they discovered how to add water very slowly by putting it into a dilute solution of alcohol. “As we tweaked the synthesis conditions, we were able to synthesize nanoparticles,” Monson said.

Whoever wrote the news release now makes the plea which isn’t quite a plea (Note: A link has been removed),

The next step is to demonstrate synthesis at an industrial scale, which will require a commercial partner. Monson, who presented the work at Sandia’s fall Science and Technology Showcase, said Sandia has received inquiries from companies interested in commercializing the technology.

“Here at Sandia we’re not set up to produce the particles on a commercial scale,” he said. “We want them to pick it up and run with it and start producing these on a wide enough scale to sell to the end user.”

Sandia would synthesize a small number of particles, then work with a partner company to form composites and evaluate them to see if they can be used as better encapsulants for LEDs, flexible high-index refraction composites for lenses or solar concentrators. “I think it can meet quite a few needs,” Monson said.

I wish them good luck.

Cientifica pivots with graphene

I’m not sure when Cientifica moved its business focus from a consultancy on emerging technologies as per my Aug. 9, 2013 posting highlighting a then recent report,; scroll down 1/2 way,

Cientifica (a business consultancy focusing on emerging technologies) has released its Graphene Opportunity Report, from the report’s webpage (Note: Links have been removed),

A decade ago when we published the first edition of the Nanotechnology Opportunity Report, there were predictions of untold riches for early investors, the replacement of all manufacturing as we know it, and the mythical trillion-dollar market.

Cientifica went against the grain by predicting that it would be hard for anyone to make money from nanomaterials, and that the real value would be in the applications.

Cientifica’s latest news release (June 13, 2014) announces an agreement with Perpetuus Carbon Group and a commitment to commercialize applications for graphene,

13 June 2014

Cientifica PLC

(“Cientifica” or the “Company”)

Development Agreement with Perpetuus Carbon Group

Cientifica PLC, the AIM listed company focused on applications of graphene, has entered into a collaboration with Perpetuus Carbon Group (“Perpetuus”), a world leader in the production of nano surface modified graphenes.

Cientifica is focusing on investment in a number of specific areas ranging from energy efficiency to health, with the aim of bringing a number of significant applications enabled by graphene to market in the near term.

The objective of the collaboration is to bring together technology, market demand and finance, with a view to placing the UK at the forefront of the commercialisation of graphene. It also creates an integrated value chain spanning graphene production to consumer and industrial applications.

Perpetuus will provide technical support to Cientifica’s planned product development with the aim of reducing the time to market by combining the technical and market expertise of both companies. A number of graphene-enabled products, including infrared heating technology will be on display at the 2nd Annual Graphene Supply, Application and Commercialisation Conference in Manchester, 13 June 2014.

The patented infrared heating technology on display, involving flat panel heaters makes use of graphene to emit infrared light at wave-lengths precisely tailored for maximum comfort and minimum energy use. The graphene enabled technology allows users to maintain the same levels of comfort, whilst using up to 70% less energy than conventional heaters.

Perpetuus supplies graphenes that have been produced in a dry, environmentally friendly manner, unlike many other graphene suppliers who use acids and surfactants, which leaves behind toxic by-products. Perpetuus’ proprietary technology allows it to populate a variety of chemical groups onto and within the nano structure of graphenes to a customer’s precise specification and deliver in kilos and tonnes.

Tim Harper, CEO of Cientifica PLC, explained: “We are focused on a number of specific areas and have identified a number of graphene-enabled applications where, as products move from prototype to market we need a partner that can supply us and our future partners material in a ready for use form, and in significant quantities to meet customer demand. We needed to find a company that can supply tonnes rather than grams per week, of consistent quality materials at competitive prices.

“By partnering with Perpetuus we believe we will be able to quickly incorporate the appropriate functionalised graphene material into our future products which we believe will allow us to significantly bring forward the launch of a number of products.”

Ian Walters of Perpetuus commented: “Many of the proposed applications of graphene are long term, and taking products to market over such long timescales can be challenging. Cientifica’s focus on identifying near term real-world applications of graphene, backed with intellectual property will help to create a quickly expanding market for Perpetuus’ applications and products.”

Further announcements will be made in due course.

There is additional information about both companies in the ‘About” section of the news release,

About Cientifica

Cientifica PLC is an AIM listed company that is focused on acquiring and building businesses making use of emerging technologies and advanced materials such as graphene. [emphasis mine] These are typically businesses at an early stage where the technology has been proven but not scaled up to meet market demand.

Emerging technologies are ones that:

Arise from new knowledge, or the innovative application of existing knowledge;

Lead to the rapid development of new capabilities;Â
Are projected to have significant systemic and long-lasting economic, social and political impacts;

Create new opportunities for and challenges to addressing global issues; andÂ
Have the potential to disrupt or create entire industries.Â

About Perpetuus

For any company to be successful in the commercialisation of graphene materials they need to offer ALL the following features to a customer:–

Functionalisation by implanting a variety of chemical groups onto and within graphenes to nano surface modify graphene, to a customer’s specification.

Consistent high quality graphemes.Â
Commercial quantities.Â
Competitive pricing.Â
Immediate availability in kilos and quick delivery of tonnes rather than grams.Â
An environmentally friendly production process (this will become more relevant as the industry expands).
Environmental impact studies and life cycle analysis on all outputs and byproducts.Â
Comprehensive and reliable characterisation data.Â
Manageable, transportable, user friendly.Â
Presented in stacks. (Graphenes as single layers are invisible and cannot be packaged or handled).

Perpetuus offers all the above to its customers.

Perpetuus, a British company, is not aware of any other business in the world which can offer the full range of these goods and services to its customers.

About Graphene

Graphene is pure carbon in the form of a very thin, nearly transparent sheet, one atom thick. It is remarkably strong for its very low weight (100 times stronger than steel) and it conducts heat and electricity with great efficiency. It can be produced by separating atomic layers of graphite or by depositing graphene directly onto a substrate from a vapour.

The AIM listing mentioned in the Cientifica news release refers to the London Stock Exchange. From the AIM webpage on the London Stock Exchanged website,

AIM is the most successful growth market in the world. Since its launch in 1995, over 3,000 companies from across the globe have chosen to join AIM. Powering the companies of tomorrow, AIM continues to help smaller and growing companies raise the capital they need for expansion.

You can find the Cientifica website here.

A H/T to a June 13, 2014 news item written from the Perpetuus perspective on Azom.com for leading me to the company’s website, more or less. (I’m finding the search algorithms being used by Google, Yahoo, and others verge on the useless these days. )  Getting back to the Perpetuus Carbon Group, I’ve not been able to find that website but Pertpetuus Carbon Technologies can be found here. You can find out more about the 2nd Annual Graphene Supply Application and Commercialisation Conference here. (it’s mentioned in the news release).

Finally, good luck to Cientifica and Perpetuus on their new venture.

The long road to commercializing nanotechnology-enabled products in Europe: the IP Nanoker Project

IP Nanoker, a nanotechnology commercialization project, was a European Union 7th Framework Programme-funded project from 2005 – 2009. So, how does IP Nanoker end up in a June 11, 2014 news item on Nanowerk? The road to commercialization is not only long, it is also winding as this news item points out in an illuminating fashion,

Superior hip, knee and dental implants, a new generation of transparent airplane windows and more durable coatings for automotive engines are just some of the products made possible – and cheaper – by the EU-funded IP NANOKER project. Many of these materials are now heading to market, boosting Europe’s competitiveness and creating jobs.

Launched back in 2005, the four-year project set out to build upon Europe’s expertise and knowledge in nanoceramics and nanocomposites.

Nanocomposites entirely made up of ceramic and metallic nanoscale particles – particles that are usually between 1 and 100 nanometres in size – are a broad new class of engineered materials that combine excellent mechanical performance with critical functionalities such as transparency, biocompatibility, and wear resistance.

These materials offer improvements over conventional materials. For some advanced optical applications – such as windows for aircraft – glass is too brittle. Nanoceramics offer both transparency and toughness, and thanks to IP NANOKER, can now be manufactured at a significantly reduced cost.
Indeed, one of the most important outcomes of IP NANOKER has been the development of new dense nanostructured materials as hard as diamond. The fabrication of these super hard materials require extreme conditions of high temperature and pressure, which is why IP NANOKER project partners developed a customised Spark Plasma Sintering machine.

“This new equipment is the largest in the world (12 metres high, 6 metres wide and 5 metres deep), and features a pressing force up to 400 tonnes and will allow the fabrication of near-net shaped products up to 400mm in diameter”, explains project coordinator Ramon Torrecillas from Spain’s Council for Scientific Research (CSIC).

This is obviously a distilled and simplified version of what occurred but, first, they developed the technology, then they developed a machine that would allow them to manufacture their nanotechnology-enabled materials. It’s unclear as to whether or not the machine was developed during the project years of 2005 – 2009 but the project can trace its impact in other ways (from the March 27, 2014 European Union news release), which originated the news item,

The project promises to have a long-lasting impact. In 2013, some former IP NANOKER partners launched a public-private initiative with the objective of bridging the gap between research and industry and boosting the industrial application of Spark Plasma Sintering in the development of nanostructured multifunctional materials.

Potential new nanomaterial-based products hitting the market soon include ultra-hard cutting and mining tools, tough ceramic armour and mirrors for space telescopes.

“Another positive result arising from IP NANOKER was the launch in 2011 of Nanoker Research, a Spanish spin-off company,” says Prof Torrecillas. “This company was formed by researchers from two of the project partners, CSIC and Cerámica Industrial Montgatina, and currently employs 19 people.”
IP NANOKER was also instrumental in creating the Nanomaterials and Nanotechnology Research Centre (CINN) in Spain, a joint initiative of the CSIC, the University of Oviedo and the Regional Government of Asturias.

As a result of its economic and societal impact, IP NANOKER was selected as project finalist in two European project competitions: Industrial Technologies 2012 and Euronanoforum 2013.
Some three years after its completion, the positive effects of the project are still being felt. Prof Torrecillas is delighted with the results, and argues that only a pan-European project could have achieved such ambitious goals.

“As an industry-led project, IP NANOKER provided a suitable framework for research on top-end applications that require not only costly technologies but also very specific know-how,” he says. “Thus, bringing together the best European experts in materials science, chemistry, physics and engineering and focusing the work of these multidisciplinary teams on specific applications, was the only way to face the project challenges.”

The technology for producing these materials/coatings has yet to be truly commercialized. They face a somewhat tumultuous future as they develop markets for their products and build up manufacturing capabilities almost simultaneously.

They will definitely use ‘push’ strategies, i.e., try to convince car manufacturers, hip implant manufacturers,etc. their materials are a necessity for improved sales of the product (car, hip implant, etc.).

They could also use ‘pull’ strategies with retailers (convince them their sales will improve) and or the general public (this will make your life easier, better, more exciting, safer, etc.). The hope with a pull strategy is that retailers and/or the general public will start demanding these improved products (car, hip implants, etc.) and the manufacturers will be clamouring for your nanotechnology-enabled materials.

Of course, if you manage to create a big demand, then you have the problem of delivering your product, which brings this post back to manufacturing and having to address capacity issues. You will also have competitors, which likely means the technology and/or  the buyers’ ideas about the technology, will evolve, at least in the short term, while the market (as they say) shakes out.

If you want to read more about some of the issues associated with commercializing nanotechnology-enabled products, there’s this Feb. 10, 2014 post titled, ‘Valley of Death’, ‘Manufacturing Middle’, and other concerns in new government report about the future of nanomanufacturing in the US‘ about a report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) and a May 23, 2014 post titled, ‘Competition, collaboration, and a smaller budget: the US nano community responds‘, which touches on some commercialization issues, albeit, within a very different context.

One final note, it’s interesting to note that the March 2014 news release about IP Nanoker is on a Horizon 2020 (this replaces the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme) news website. I expect officials want to emphasize the reach and impact these funded projects have over time.

Of graphene cities and Manchester (UK)

I have expressed great admiration for the graphene publicity effort (mentioned in this Feb. 21, 2012 posting and elsewhere) put on by the UK during the run up to its European Commission award of a 1B Euro research prize in January 2013 (mentioned in my Jan. 28, 2013 posting). Officially, the award was given to the Graphene FET (future and emerging technologies) flagship project consortium headed by Chalmers University (Sweden).

The University of Manchester, a member of the consortium, has been active in graphene research and commercialization in the UK, from my Feb. 19, 2013 posting,

The University of Manchester (UK) has a particular interest in graphene as the material was isolated by future Nobel Prize winners, Andre Gheim and Kostya (Konstantin) Novoselov in the university’s laboratories. There’s a Feb. 18, 2013 news item on Nanowerk highlighting the university’s past and future role in the development of graphene on the heels of the recent research bonanza,

The European Commission has announced that it is providing 1bn euros over 10 years for research and development into graphene – the ‘wonder material’ isolated at The University of Manchester by Nobel Prize winners Professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov.

The University is very active in technology transfer and has an excellent track-record of spinning out technology, but some think that the University has taken a different view when it comes to patenting and commercialising graphene. Others have expressed a broader concern about British Industry lagging behind in the graphene ‘race’, based upon international ‘league tables’ of numbers of graphene patents.

Manchester is the site for one of two graphene institutions in the UK as per my Jan. 14, 2013 posting titled, National Graphene Institute at the UK’s University of Manchester. The other is in Cambridge as per my Jan. 24, 2013 posting titled, Another day, another graphene centre in the UK as the Graphene flagship consortium’s countdown begins.

The latest item ‘graphene & UK’ (Manchester) item I’m featuring here is a May 12, 2014 news item on Azonano titled, ‘Graphene City’ Can be a Model for Commercialising Scientific Discoveries (Note: A link has been removed),

This is a blog [posting] by James Baker, Business Director for Graphene@Manchester. As the government announces further support for the UK’s emerging graphene industry, James Baker from the National Graphene Institute says the emerging concept of a ‘graphene city’ can be a UK model for commercialising new scientific discoveries.

After a few fits and starts, I traced the news item to a May 7, 2014 posting on the University of Manchester’s [Manchester] Policy Blogs: Science and Technology blog,

Announcing new investments into graphene commercialisation in March’s [2014] Budget, Chancellor George Osborne described the material as a “great British discovery that we should break the habit of a lifetime with and commercially develop in Britain”.

As the new business director for the National Graphene Institute (NGI), which has its new £61m building opening here at the University next year, I obviously couldn’t agree more.

I first came across graphene in my previous job at defence giant BAE Systems where I was in charge of technology collaboration programmes. We ran a number of ‘futures’ workshops where the aim was to get senior executives to think about how the wider world might look in 20 years time.

In defence there has been much debate about the need for a coherent defence industrial strategy to ensure we have the necessary skills and industrial capabilities for the future, and it was through these sessions that a wider dialogue around technologies such as graphene as a potential ‘disruptive’ capability started to emerge.

Whether it’s helping develop new lightweight components for aircraft or battery packs for soldiers, or developing flexible touch screens for the specialist gadget market, graphene has a vast array of potential uses.

My role is to sign up potential industrial partners who want to collaborate with The University of Manchester and take the graphene science to a higher maturity and onto commercialisation. We are looking for partners across a range of sectors who want to operate in this environment in an open, shared and collaborative way.

The vision of creating a ‘graphene city’ in the 21st century can be compared with Manchester in the 19th century when economic activity and innovation developed largely in the absence of the state.

If you are interested in graphene commercialization in the UK, this posting offers some insight into how at least one person involved in this process views the possibilities.

Xerox Research Centre Canada (XRCC) forms a materials alliance with Battelle Memorial Institute

Could this be described as an example of Canadian innovation? Xerox Research Centre Canada (XRCC) has signed a document with Battelle Memorial institute according to a May 8, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

The Xerox Research Centre Canada (XRCC) and Battelle Memorial Institute have signed a strategic alliance to co-market and collaborate on materials science research services.

The alliance will allow clients of XRCC and Battelle to access the deep capabilities of the two renowned research organizations – including the use of XRCC`s pilot plant and manufacturing scale-up facility – to augment their own resources in developing and bringing new products to market. [emphasis mine]

Does anyone know if the XRCC pilot plant and/or the manufacturing scale-up facility received any Canadian government funding or tax credits? If so, it would appear that Canadian taxpayers have paid for a facility that will be used to develop materials for sale by a US-based organization. It is entirely possible that those materials could be sold back to Canadian institutions at a hefty profit for Battelle.

A May 8, 2014 Xerox news release (available on the Xerox.com site but not the XRCC.ca site), which originated the news item, provides more details (Note: Links have been removed),

Both XRCC and Battelle also expect the alliance will attract new innovation services customers. “Tapping into the strong capabilities of Xerox and Battelle is an agile and cost-effective way for businesses and government to add value, improve performance, gain competitive edge…or create something entirely new,” said Martin Toomajian, Battelle president of energy, health and environment.

Scientists at XRCC specialize in the design and development of electronic materials PDF file and specialty components; environmentally responsible processes PDF file; coatings, applied nanotechnology PDF file; polymer science PDF file, engineering and pilot plant scale-up PDF file. XRCC is part of the global Xerox Innovation Group, comprised of five research centers around the globe that each leverage XRCC’s unique, integrated, global materials research and development mandate.

Battelle manages the world’s leading national laboratories and maintains a contract research portfolio spanning consumer and industrial, energy and environment, health and pharmaceutical and national security. From large government agencies and multi-national corporations to small start-ups and incubator projects, Battelle provides the resources, brainpower and flexibility to fulfill client needs.

Battelle and Xerox share a unique historical connection. One of Battelle’s early clients was Chester Carlson whose invention of xerography launched Xerox Corporation. Seventy years ago, the two signed an agreement that provided Carlson with access to the Battelle labs in the interest of collaborative research, development and engineering work. Today’s announcement marks the beginning of the next generation of collaboration between two of the world’s most renowned innovation organizations.

Intriguingly, the ‘About’ section of the news release does not include XRCC (Note: Links have been removed),

About Xerox
Since the invention of Xerography more than 75 years ago, the people of Xerox (NYSE: XRX) have helped businesses simplify the way work gets done. Today, we are the global leader in business process and document management, helping organizations of any size be more efficient so they can focus on their real business. Headquartered in Norwalk, Conn., we have more than 140,000 Xerox employees and do business in more than 180 countries, providing business services, printing equipment and software for commercial and government organizations. Learn more at www.xerox.com.

About Battelle
Every day, the people of Battelle apply science and technology to solving what matters most. At major technology centers and national laboratories around the world, Battelle conducts research and development, designs and manufactures products, and delivers critical services for government and commercial customers. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio since its founding in 1929, Battelle serves the national security, health and life sciences, and energy and environmental industries. For more information, visit www.battelle.org.

Earlier this year in an April 4, 2014 posting, I featured another XRCC deal where I questioned its relationship to Canadian innovation,

An April 1, 2014 news item on labcanada.com describes a recently signed deal which may turn up the competition in Canada’s currency authentication business sector,

The Xerox Research Centre Canada [XRCC] says it has signed a multi-year materials research services agreement with Dallas-based Authentix, a provider of anti-counterfeiting, brand protection and program integrity solutions for the oil and gas industry; currency, branded products and tax stamp markets.

“Working with companies like Authentix adds to the value our scientists bring to the research world,” said Paul Smith, vice president and director of the Xerox Research Centre Canada. “Not only do we continue to strengthen our scientific role in Canadian innovation, we are now bringing valuable research capabilities to other companies globally.” [emphasis mine]

Given that Xerox is a US company with a Canadian branch, I’m not sure how signing a deal with another US company aids Canadian innovation. On the plus side, it does give some Canadian scientists a job.

Kala Pharmaceuticals gets $22.5M to develop its nanoscale ophthalmic products

Is there an upsurge of business and investment interest in ‘nano’ companies? It certainly seems that way given the plethora of announcements. For no particular reason I’ve picked up on this April 25, 2014 news item on Azonano about Kala Pharameutics, its Mucosal Penetrating Product (MPP) platform, and a successful funding round,

Kala Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a leading developer of innovative ophthalmic products based on the company’s proprietary Mucus Penetrating Particle (MPP) platform technology, today announced it has completed a $22.5 million Series B financing.

New venture investor Ysios Capital led the round, which also included a new strategic investor, as well as current investors Crown Venture Fund, Lux Capital, Polaris Partners and Third Rock Ventures. In conjunction with the financing, Karen Wagner, Ph.D., General Partner at Ysios Capital, will join Kala’s Board of Directors.

“Leveraging its MPP nanotechnology, Kala has developed topical eye drops that allow therapeutic agents to pass through the mucus layer of the eye’s surface, facilitating penetration into deeper tissues of the eye, including the retina. This approach has yielded game-changing clinical-stage product candidates that may provide more convenient dosing for patients and improve efficacy in a range of ophthalmic indications, including dry eye disease and wet age-related macular degeneration,” said Dr. Wagner. “There is significant demand for breakthrough treatments for ocular diseases and Kala is uniquely poised to address these needs. We look forward to supporting the company’s continued progress.”

An April 23, 2014 Kala Pharmaceuticals news release, which originated the news item, reveals what this round of funding will pay for,

The proceeds from the financing will be used to advance clinical development of the company’s loteprednol etabonate MPP (“LE-MPP”) program. Kala will be initiating four clinical trials with LE-MPP in 2014: a Phase 3 trial in post-operative inflammation and pain following cataract surgery with 1% and 0.25% LE-MPP; a Phase 2 trial with 0.25% LE-MPP in dry eye disease; a Phase 2 trial with 0.25% LE-MPP in inflammatory meibomian gland disease (blepharitis); and an exploratory trial with 1% LE-MPP in diabetic macular edema and retinal vein occlusion to evaluate the ability to treat retinal diseases via topical administration. The company also plans to advance its novel, small molecule receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor (RTKi)-MPP for potential first-in-class topical treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) toward candidate selection in 2014.

“We are pleased to welcome Ysios to our team and appreciate the confidence of our new and existing investors during this exciting time for Kala,” said Guillaume Pfefer, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of Kala. “Their collective financial and strategic support will allow Kala to advance its pipeline of ophthalmic product candidates while also exploring partnerships to maximize the value of our MPP platform technology for potential indications beyond eye care.”

The company does offer some information about its scientific approach,

The natural barriers that mucosal tissues create in the body largely limits therapeutic efficacy of drugs. By using the company’s technology platform, Kala’s Mucosal Penetrating Products (MPPs) have the unique ability to rapidly and uniformly coat and permeate mucosal tissues, leading to highly effective treatments with improved side effect profiles.
Therapeutics with unique properties for superior efficacy

Kala’s technology can be used to engineer innovative therapies with the size and surface coating properties necessary to dramatically improve drug penetration and retention in mucosal tissues, with the potential for significantly enhanced therapeutic outcomes. Preclinical studies have confirmed that MPPs improved drug retention, enabling greater efficacy at a fraction of the standard therapeutic dose compared to traditional therapies.

A biocompatible therapeutic approach

Kala’s approach enables efficient therapeutic access to mucosal tissues while not disturbing the local microenvironment. The muco-inert feature of the MPPs result in favorable biocompatibility profiles by avoiding of activation of the local immune system and inflammatory cascades. The favorable biocompatibility profile of Kala’s therapies aligns with the importance of maintaining a healthy microbiome while treating an underlying disease with a therapeutic agent.

Technology platform internally focused on ocular diseases with a broad range of other disease applications available for collaboration

Kala Pharmaceuticals is primarily leveraging its proprietary technology platform as an internal product engine with initial drug development efforts focused on developing innovative topical products capable of penetrating mucosal barriers for the treatment of retinal diseases. The company is also pursuing collaborations with partners to transform the therapeutic properties of both marketed drugs and compounds in development for a broad range of disease indications.

Canon-Molecular Imprints deal and its impact on shrinking chips (integrated circuits)

There’s quite an interesting April 20, 2014 essay on Nanotechnology Now which provides some insight into the nanoimprinting market. I recommend reading it but for anyone who is not intimately familiar with the scene, here are a few excerpts along with my attempts to decode this insider’s (from Martini Tech) view,

About two months ago, important news shook the small but lively Japanese nanoimprint community: Canon has decided to acquire, making it a wholly-owned subsidiary, Texas-based Molecular Imprints, a strong player in the nanotechnology industry and one of the main makers of nanoimprint devices such as the Imprio 450 and other models.

So, Canon, a Japanese company, has made a move into the nanoimpriting sector by purchasing Molecular Imprints, a US company based in Texas, outright.

This next part concerns the expiration of Moore’s Law (i.e., every 18 months computer chips get smaller and faster) and is why the major chip makers are searching for new solutions as per the fifth paragraph in this excerpt,

Molecular Imprints` devices are aimed at the IC [integrated circuits, aka chips, I think] patterning market and not just at the relatively smaller applications market to which nanoimprint is usually confined: patterning of bio culture substrates, thin film applications for the solar industry, anti-reflection films for smartphone and LED TV screens, patterning of surfaces for microfluidics among others.

While each one of the markets listed above has the potential of explosive growth in the medium-long term future, at the moment none of them is worth more than a few percentage points, at best, of the IC patterning market.

The mainstream technology behind IC patterning is still optical stepper lithography and the situation is not likely to change in the near term future.

However, optical lithography has its limitations, the main challenge to its 40-year dominance not coming only from technological and engineering issues, but mostly from economical ones.

While from a strictly technological point of view it may still be possible for the major players in the chip industry (Intel, GF, TSMC, Nvidia among others) to go ahead with optical steppers and reach the 5nm node using multi-patterning and immersion, the cost increases associated with each die shrink are becoming staggeringly high.

A top-of-the-notch stepper in the early 90s could have been bought for a few millions of dollars, now the price has increased to some tens of millions for the top machines

The essay describes the market impact this acquisition may have for Canon,

Molecular Imprints has been a company on the forefront of commercialization of nanoimprint-based solutions for IC manufacturing, but so far their solutions have yet to become a viable alternative HVM IC manufacturing market.

The main stumbling blocks for IC patterning using nanoimprint technology are: the occurrence of defects on the mask that inevitably replicates them on each substrate and the lack of alignment precision between the mold and the substrate needed to pattern multi-layered structures.

Therefore, applications for nanoimprint have been limited to markets where no non-periodical structure patterning is needed and where one-layered patterning is sufficient.

But the big market where everyone is aiming for is, of course, IC patterning and this is where much of the R&D effort goes.

While logic patterning with nanoimprint may still be years away, simple patterning of NAND structures may be feasible in the near future, and the purchase of Molecular Imprints by Canon is a step in this direction

Patterning of NAND structures may still require multi-layered structures, but the alignment precision needed is considerably lower than logic.

Moreover, NAND requirements for defectivity are more relaxed than for logic due to the inherent redundancy of the design, therefore, NAND manufacturing is the natural first step for nanoimprint in the IC manufacturing market and, if successful, it may open a whole new range of opportunities for the whole sector.

Assuming I’ve read the rest of this essay rightly, here’s my summary: there are a number of techniques being employed to make chips smaller and more efficient. Canon has purchased a company that is versed in a technique that creates NAND (you can find definitions here) structures in the hope that this technique can be commercialized so that Canon becomes dominant in the sector because (1) they got there first and/or because (2) NAND manufacturing becomes a clear leader, crushing competition from other technologies. This could cover short-term goals and, I imagine Canon hopes, long-term goals.

It was a real treat coming across this essay as it’s an insider’s view. So, thank you to the folks at Martini Tech who wrote this. You can find Molecular Imprints here.