NASA Technology Forms the Basis for a New Nanotechnology Company
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
Release No. 07-45
GREENBELT, Md. - A NASA-developed innovative process is making waves in the nanotechnology field
and spurring the development of new companies in the process. A new company
based in Austin, Texas, Nanotailor, has licensed NASA Goddard Space Flight
Center's unique single-walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) fabrication process with
plans to make high-quality, low-cost SWCNTs available commercially.
Image right: NASA Goddard researcher Dr. Jeannette Benavides sets up her innovative, low-cost process for manufacturing carbon nanotubes, which has been licensed by Nanotailor and two other start-ups. Credit: NASA GSFC Innovative Partnerships Program Office.
Potential markets for the technology are vast and include medical, construction,
manufacturing, and imaging, to name just a few. The license provides Nanotailor
a springboard from which to grow its business, while helping to make affordable
nanotechnology available to a broad range of industries.
One of the basic nanotechnology structures, a carbon nanotube is a graphite
sheet one atomic layer thick of carbon that is wrapped on itself to create an
extraordinarily thin, strong tube. Although carbon nanotubes were discovered
more than 15 years ago, their use has been limited due to the complex,
dangerous, and expensive methods for their production.
Image left: NASA Goddard's innovative CNT manufacturing process uses helium arc welding to vaporize a carbon rod (anode), with the nanotubes forming in the soot deposited onto a water-cooled carbon cathode. Credit: NASA GSFC Innovative Partnerships Program Office.
This unwieldy process has made SWCNTs cost-prohibitive up until now. "The
nanotech industry is growing by more than 40 percent a year, but multi-walled
carbon nanotubes have been the primary technology used. Single-walled
technology just hasn’t taken off because of the cost," notes Nanotailor
president Ramon Perales. "If we can get the cost down, we can be a step ahead
and make higher quality nanotechnology more affordable."
NASA Goddard, located in Greenbelt, Md. is helping nanotechnology companies like
Nanotailor do just that through a simpler, safer, and much less costly
manufacturing process for SWCNTs. Developed by retired GSFC researcher Dr.
Jeannette Benavides, the key to the innovation is the ability to produce
bundles of SWCNTs without using a metal catalyst, dramatically reducing pre-
and post-production costs while generating higher yields of better quality
product. Other start-up companies that have licensed the process include Idaho
Space Materials in Boise and E-City NanoTechnologies in the metro Baltimore
Image right: Thousands of times smaller than the average human hair, carbon nanotubes are extremely long and thin yet strong, making them a key nanotechnology structure. Credit: NASA Ames Research Center.
With a license agreement in place, Nanotailor has built and tested a prototype
based on NASA Goddard’s process, and is now working on commercialization
efforts with a plan to go to market by the end of 2007. Device integrators and
nanotechnology-based device companies will likely be among Nanotailor’s first
customers, though the company hopes to cater to a wide variety of industries
and research organizations. "All industries currently using multi-walled tubes
will be able to benefit from this technology," notes Nanotailor chief
technology officer Reginald Parker. "We’re lowering the cost per gram while
greatly improving the integrity of the nanotubes. A better product at a lower
price will help us bring higher quality nanotechnology to biomaterials,
advanced materials, space exploration, highway and building construction… the
list goes on and on."
This technology transfer success story was made possible by the efforts of
NASA’s Innovative Partnerships Program (IPP), which has a two-part focus: (1)
forming partnerships between NASA and industry, academia, or other government
agencies to support the space program and (2) transferring NASA technology to
"NASA is committed to working with small businesses so they may be successful.
It’s good for technology, for NASA, and for the U.S. economy," said Nona
Minnifield Cheeks, Chief of the IPP Office at NASA Goddard.
+ NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program
+ NASA Technologies
Goddard Space Flight Center