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Weekend edition February 09, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

State RevV funding opens doors for Raptor Resins and UT students

The innovations developed under the voucher's dollars were noticed by the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

It takes many intelligent minds to find complex solutions to “out of this world” problems — yes, we are talking about space.

Raptor Resins, a company based in Celina, Tennessee, is developing high-temperature resin solutions for aerospace technology. Resin, a hard material similar to plastic, can withstand significant heat, pressure, and other stressors. The company’s founder, Robert Stratton, forged a friendship with Dr. Uday Vaidya, the Governor’s Chair for Advanced Composites and Manufacturing and a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK).

Vaidya has been studying advanced composites for more than 30 years, both in India and the United States, and possesses a keen eye for industry talent.

“Rob Stratton is an expert in the composites realm. We met at several conferences, and I was impressed by his work. Eventually, when he started his own company, I recognized the opportunity for us to work together,” Vaidya said.

Vaidya believed that the work at Raptor Resins warranted funding from the RevV program, and his assumption proved correct.

RevV is a voucher program for Tennessee companies that offsets the costs of working with leading-edge experts in advanced research facilities to solve complex manufacturing challenges. The state created it to ensure local manufacturers have a competitive advantage in the global marketplace by providing access to expertise and facilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the University of Tennessee.

To date, the program has assisted 40 companies.

Writing the Proposal

“The RevV program at ORNL is always looking for ‘what’s next.’” Vaidya explained that he and Stratton had to provide a realistic impact projection to apply for the voucher. They needed to determine how many jobs Raptor Resins could create, the innovation’s value on a broad scale, and its application in the aerospace industry.

The state granted the voucher to Vaidya and Stratton to begin research on a type of plastic called “cyanate ester resin,” capable of withstanding extremely hot temperatures, as experienced in space travel.

Four students at UTK assisted with the research, and one of those students even went on to start his own company.

Eye-Catching Innovations

Unexpectedly, their work caught the attention of the U.S. Navy.

“One thing we didn’t expect at the beginning was that our work would be noticed by the U.S. Navy,” Vaidya said.

The data collected by Vaidya, Stratton, ORNL, and UTK helped Raptor Resins win a follow-on program through the Office of Naval Research for radome repair.

“We don’t have all the testing and lab equipment that the university does. We don’t have the resources, so it gives us access and ability to get some very specialized testing done that we couldn’t do in-house,” Stratton said in a UTK press release. “It’s not something I could afford to go out and buy, so it’s extremely helpful.”

Vaidya expressed satisfaction with the success of the RevV voucher and subsequent opportunities.

“It feels too good to put into words,” he said.

Vaidya and Stratton plan to continue working together on various projects, including exploring how underwater polymers could alter a marine environment from a military standpoint.

Due to the collaboration with Raptor Resins through RevV, UTK has connected with several other companies across the country. In the last two years, the University has worked with Vision Wheel, Mussel Polymer, and Lenzing Lyocell, to name a few.

“The relationship with UT has benefited our company, the university, and the students,” Stratton said. “I think it has been a good win-win all around. I really hope it continues.”

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