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On Thursday, March 8, the three companies with licenses to new de-icing technologies developed at Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering convened at the School to present current findings and plans for commercialization.
The companies presenting were BFGoodrich, with a license for aerospace and marine applications, Torvec, Inc. (OTC BB: TOVC), which will develop the technology for land-based vehicle applications, and The Quantum Group, Inc. (OTC BB: QTMG), which plans to commercialize the ground-surface applications. The new technologies, developed by Dartmouth Engineering Professor Victor Petrenko, use low-voltage electricity to remove ice, prevent it from forming, or either increase or decrease ice-surface friction. Ice can be made simply to fall off an airplane wing or "evaporate" quickly from a road surface, and the day may come when car tires get the same traction on ice that they would have on dry pavement.
Alla Kan, Director of Dartmouth's Technology Transfer Office, welcomed the gathering and described the process of transferring technology from academia to the private sector, which resulted in the three licenses to the new de-icing technology.
Dr. Stan Prybyla, a Senior R&D Associate from BFGoodrich Aerospace, commented at the start of the company presentations: "In our preliminary testing of Professor Petrenko's technology, we were able to achieve zero ice adhesion. The ice literally fell off the test component." Current airplane de-icing methods employ decades-old technology. "We are now looking to develop a novel low-power de-icing system that is robust to the operating environment and readily manufacturable. The program to develop the Dartmouth technology is moving forward very nicely. We have demonstrated our proof of concept, and we plan to build and test a sub-scale prototype by the end of 2001."
BFGoodrich acquired its license and exclusive rights to Petrenko's de-icing technology in January, 2000. Headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, its aerospace segment is one of the world's leading suppliers of components, systems, and services to the aerospace industry.
Dr. Herbert H. Dobbs, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Torvec , a Rochester, New York-based developer of advanced automotive technologies, then presented his company's strategies for commercializing this revolutionary technology. (In November, 2000, the Dartmouth Trustees granted a worldwide exclusive license to Ice Surface Development, Inc. (ISDI), a subsidiary of UTEK Corporation (NASDAQ SC: UTOB), for Petrenko's ice adhesion modification system for land-based vehicle applications. ISDI was subsequently acquired by Torvec.
During the meeting, Dobbs commented, "There's nothing like a 60-ton tank slithering around on the ice to make you think Professor Petrenko's technology is a good idea!" In addition to a non-thermal windshield de-icer, which would prevent ice from even forming, Torvec plans to further develop Petrenko's "Electrostatic IceBraker" traction system which works by inducing an electric field that significantly increases the friction between tires and ice. "This is a new direction for Torvec," continued Dobbs, "Up to this point we've used only our own technology. But we think this has enormous potential. Everything is pointing in a very positive direction and the tire application is the first direction to go. Industry interest is very high, and we're ready to work on a prototype with a company and are working with Professor Petrenko on a business plan."
The conductive rubber needed for the IceBraker system is already commercially available and relatively cheap. The tire system has a projected cost of approximately $5-10 per car, and may someday be available as an optional feature like a sunroof or a CD player. The system could also be used for shoes requiring only a simple ice sensor and a small battery.
John Pope, Vice-President of Finance for The Quantum Group, Inc., concluded the company presentation portion of the meeting. In February of this year, the Dartmouth Trustees granted a worldwide exclusive license for the ground surface applications of Petrenko's de-icer to Technology Development, Inc. (TDI), another subsidiary of UTEK. TDI was subsequently sold by UTEK to The Quantum Group, which, based in California, is striving to establish itself as a leader in the development of environmental technologies and crumb-rubber modified asphalt technologies.
"I have a vision of an overhead picture of a major international airport in the middle of winter, and all around the airport is white, except for the runway which is perfectly black," said Pope. The Quantum Group plans to commercialize the technology for use in airport runways, taxiways, and tarmacs; motor vehicle roadways, bridges, and tunnels; pedestrian walkways; sports facilities and playgrounds; and for indoor and outdoor floors and ground covering systems. For these ground surface applications, low-voltage electricity is distributed either through a metal grid embedded in the surface or by using electrically-conductive paint. Pope concluded by saying, "Although only entering the third week of developing this technology, we are excited about beginning the laboratory portion of our work. We will be working very closely with Professor Petrenko in turning lab research into real-world applications."
"I have spent the last twenty years gaining a basic understanding of ice-surface physics and engineering," said Petrenko, "and it's taken me seven years to apply that basic knowledge and begin to develop the technologies needed to solve the problems of ice adhesion."
Petrenko has been interested in the electrical properties of ice ever since the early 1980s when, during over a decade's work as a physicist at the Institute of Solid State Physics in Chernogolovka, Soviet Union, he went on sabbatical leave at the University of Birmingham. "I visited their ice physics lab and was surprised to find that ice itself was a protonic semiconductor, that is, one of the special class in which the charges are conducted by moving protons, not electrons," commented Petrenko. Then, at an ice conference in Grenoble, Petrenko met Professor Erland Schulson, Director of Thayer School's Ice Research Lab, now the largest university ice lab in the country. The meeting resulted in some joint research projects, followed by an invitation to stay on at Dartmouth's Thayer School as a research professor in engineering.
Ice's notorious stickiness comes from its charged surface, which induces an opposite charge on the surface to which it adheres. The natural attraction between the opposite charges is what makes ice so hard to remove. One of Petrenko's inventions involves sending an electric current across the ice-material interface. In the case of de-icing airplanes, electrodes embedded in a coating applied directly to aircraft surfaces would break down ice as it forms through the process of electrolysis, transforming ice directly into hydrogen and oxygen gases. If any ice buildup does occur -- which can happen if a large amount of moisture is hitting the plane -- bubbles forming at the ice-metal interface generate pressure and literally push the ice off the surface. This same principle can work for ships, cars and trucks, windshields, offshore structures, roads and bridges, ski lifts, roofs, and the inside of a freezer.
Last year, Petrenko's airplane de-icer was the winner of the 2000 Discover Award for Technological Innovation for the aerospace category.
Other companies attending the meeting were Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, Gardian Automotive Industry, Canadian Electricity Association, NASA, The FAA, and many scientists from Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL), as well as New York Power Authority which is supporting Petrenko's development of a prototype de-icer for power lines. "Power lines produce their own electric field," says Petrenko, "which can be adjusted to produce enough heat for a de-icing effect." This is good news, considering that the ice storm of 1998 in New England alone cost over $5 billion, mostly from damage to power lines.
Overall, ice takes a major toll on society -- airplanes downed, grounded, or rerouted, car accidents on icy roads and bridges, power outages, ships capsized -- so much so that it's difficult to quantify. "It's all very exciting, and is keeping me very busy!" says Petrenko. "The Army Research Office (ARO) was the first to recognize that an investment in basic research was the place to start to solve this problem. Soon after, the National Science Foundation added its support -- and that approach has worked very well!"
The meeting was convened by Dr. Russell Harmon, Engineering Sciences Directorate of ARO's Terrestrial Sciences Program.
UTEK Corporation is a business development company dedicated to building bridges between university developed technology and commercial organizations utilizing their unique U2B sm business model. UTEK acquires, licenses and finances the further development of new university technologies for rapidly growing technology companies. These intellectual capital assets are then sold to technology companies for an equity stake. With UTEK's U2B sm model, companies can rapidly grow their technology assets while universities receive 100% of the royalties for each transferred technology.
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