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February 04, 2016 | Tom Ballard

Nano Elements goes from R&D license to full commercialization

Nano ElementsBy Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

What began as an R&D license to more fully explore the commercial potential of a technology developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has turned into an “all hands on deck” effort to commercialize that technology.

Jeff McCay, one of the Founders of Top Five, a private equity company based in Chattanooga, told us recently that Nano Elements Source LLC, one of Top Five’s portfolio companies, has executed a full license to commercialize the unique nanofermentation technology.

“We have licensed semiconducting nanoparticles,” he says.

Like many technology-based start-ups, the target application has shifted from the initial thinking when the R&D license was executed. Early in its examination, Nano Elements was focused on electronics, specifically applied to the solar sector.

“That market collapsed,” Beth Papanek, the company’s new Vice President for Business Development, said. As a student in the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, she was part of the graduate student team that performed much of the early research for McCay. Papanek is now working with Nano Elements as she prepares to defend her doctoral dissertation later this spring.

“Our primary focus today is as a replacement for LEDs,” McCay says. This means any display technology such as television screens to monitors. The team believes there’s a particular opportunity in high definition TVs.

“They use quantum dot (QD) technology, and the primary materials that are employed are cadmium-based,” McCay said, explaining that many countries are banning cadmium. Viable alternatives are needed, and zinc can be a good replacement, and the nanofermentation technology that Nano Elements has licensed uses bacteria to ferment high-quality, cadmium-free, quantum dot cores at a greatly reduced cost compared to conventional manufacturing methods.

“The technology is a real option to replace heavy metal materials and at a much lower cost,” McCay says. That’s a solution that is not only beneficial to the consumer but to the environment, too.

That said, he acknowledges “there’s still a lot of work to do. 2016 will be a big year of opportunity.”

McCay is no stranger to working with ORNL, starting several years ago in the carbon fiber and composites area. He learned about the nanofermentation technology at one of the lab’s technology awareness events and decided to more fully explore commercial opportunities as described in a two-part series (Part 1 and Part 2) that published last March.

“Had we not have had the opportunity to take the R&D license, we would have never explored the technology,” McCay admits.

Those interested in learning more about Nano Elements can visit the company’s website.

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