RFP announced in Advanced Materials

Michigan Tech’s Office of Innovation and Industry Engagement announces a call for proposals for its new Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (M-TRAC) program.

The M-TRAC grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation program sponsors collaborative translational research projects led by teams of researchers and business advisors as needed working in the area of advanced applied materials. The mission of this program is to develop technologies that address unmet or poorly met market needs.  Examples of desirable translational research goals and outcomes include achieving specific milestones on the path to commercializing systems, materials, processing technologies or devices which serve a well-documented market need.  Proposals may address proof of concept demonstration, prototype development or process scale up that is necessary to attract follow-on funding from third parties.  Project funding is in the range of $10,000 – $30,000 but additional commercialization value is likely to be found through collaboration with the program’s outside Oversight Committee.

The proposal must relate to an innovative technology previously disclosed to Michigan Tech’s office of Innovation & Industry Engagement through the invention disclosure process.  The PI must be willing to become involved in the initial business development activities such as customer discovery, competitive analysis, follow-on funding development, patent filings and assessment of the intellectual property landscape surrounding the technology.

The application process begins with a one page letter of intent due January 24th which should be emailed to Program Director John Diebel jfdiebel@mtu.edu.   Proposals accepted by the Oversight Committee will be invited to submit a more detailed proposal in early April. Details on the program and application process can be found here.

Patent & Trademark Resource Center Opens at Michigan Tech

[Photo courtesy of Emil Groth, College of Engineering, Michigan Technological University]

Michigan Technological University celebrated the opening of a newly designated center offering information, assistance and tools for entrepreneurs and inventors seeking patent and trademark protection of intellectual property. The day-long event included topics of interest for inventors, entrepreneurs, educators and legal professionals featuring speakers from the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) and Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech).

Located in the Van Pelt and Opie Library, on Michigan Tech’s main campus, the Patent & Trademark Resource Center (PTRC) will benefit University students, faculty, and staff as well as inventors and independent researchers from the surrounding communities. This center is one of 84 in the United States and one of 45 located in an academic library.  Available services include by-appointment individual patent and trademark searching help with trained librarians, access to robust patent-searching databases available only at PTRCs, patent and trademark searching workshops, and books and other helpful materials on the patent and/or trademark application process from beginning to end. Ellen Marks, University Librarian, emphasizes the importance of the PTRC’s services for individuals, groups and businesses located throughout the Upper Peninsula and Eastern Wisconsin — “everyone is welcome to use our services, uncommonly available in rural areas.”

Speakers for the opening day seminar included:

  • Michael Hydorn, USPTO Patent and Trademark Resource Center Program
  • Jim Baker, Executive Director of Innovation and Industry Engagement, Michigan Tech
  • M. Neil Massong, MLS, USPTO Patent and Trademark Resource Center Program

More information contact Instruction Librarian Sarah Lucchesi at slucches@mtu.edu or 906-487-3379.

Accurate Detection of Engine Knock

Engine knock is caused by the auto-ignition of the fuel and air mixture compressed in the cylinder before normal combustion is complete. A vehicle with engine knock will quickly suffer engine damage, yet operating at conditions far from the knock limit will quickly reduce fuel economy. Because engine knock typically generates high frequency vibrations in the engine, it can be measured by accelerometers mounted on the engine block. The intensity of the engine knock varies from cycle to cycle and can lead current knock detection systems to underestimate the level of knock resulting in possible engine damage or overestimate the level of knock resulting in fuel economy losses.

The solution to accurate engine knock measurement lies with statistical characterization. The invention is a software algorithm that capitalizes on current Engine Control Unit (ECU) hardware to fit the cycle-cycle knock intensities to a probability density function. The statistical characterization is more accurate for both stationery and non-stationery detection of engine knocks. The model was developed using a standard 3.0 liter, V-6 internal combustion engine.

Minimizing engine knock provides many advantages including reduced fuel consumption, reduced engine noise and improved tolerance to alternative fuels including biofuel blends. The developed software algorithm improves the robustness of existing ECU hardware with a more accurate measuring system. This calculation improves performance and extends internal combustion engine life while being applicable to most ECUs on the market.

Exclusive and nonexclusive license terms are available on this innovation (U.S. Patent No. 7,415,347, issued January 2008). For more information contact John Diebel in the Office of Innovation and Industry Engagement, 906-487-1082.

Wet Oxidation of Lactose

Lactose is a low-value by-product of cheese production. Altogether, about 1.2 million tons are generated annually worldwide by the dairy industry. Most of the resulting lactose is disposed of in waste water leading to environmental problems. To reduce the environmental impact the dairy industry needs to minimize this waste, either by converting lactose to smaller organic and inorganic carbon compounds more suitable for disposal or, preferably, to a lactose derivative compound with significant value.

At Michigan Tech, researchers have modified a catalytic wet oxidation process (common in sewage treatment) where O2 is added to a 3 percent lactose-water solution in the presence of a catalyst under heat and pressure. Catalytic wet oxidation converts whey (comprised of water, proteins, minerals and lactose) to carbon dioxide and water. The process has been modified to produce lactobionic acid, a marketable by-product for food preservation, cosmetics and pharmaceutical applications.  During the process, heat is generated and may provide additional value as recovered energy.  In addition to producing a marketable by-product, this process is simple and offers a safer and more environmentally friendly alternative to conventional waste treatment methods.

Exclusive or nonexclusive licensing is available on this technology (U.S. Patent No. 7,371,362, issued May 13, 2008). For more information contact John Diebel in the Office of Innovation and Industry Engagement, 906-487-1082.

Boron Nitride Nanotube Fabrication

Boron nitride nanotubes (BNNTs) provide many positive attributes over carbon nanotubes. BNNTs offer extraordinary mechanical properties and high thermal conductivity.  They also provide uniform electrical properties and high oxidation resistance. BTTNs are ideal for applications requiring high heat resistance, for computer chip manufacturing and insulation, and in cancer treatment known as Boron Neutron Capture Theory. However the difficulty of fabricating BNNTs has hindered their commercial adaptation.

At Michigan Tech, researchers have recently developed a new fabrication process that may make BTTNs more commercially competitive. A simple growth procedure has been developed to produce BNNTs in a conventional resistive tube furnace. The uniqueness of this approach utilizes a closed-end quartz tube to trap the growth vapor to enhance the nucleation probability of BNNTs at relatively low temperatures. Additionally, this process incorporates a magnesium oxide (MgO) coating on the substrates which further enhances the yield of BNNTs and allows for growth directly on the substrate. The fabrication process requires only a conventional tube furnace and is capable of producing higher yields through a more efficient conversion process.

A provisional patent application has been filed on this technology. Exclusive or nonexclusive license options are available. For more information contact John Diebel in the Office of Innovation and Industry Engagement, 906-487-1082.

Synthesis of Carbon Nitrides and Lithium Cyanamide from Carbon Dioxide

Michigan Tech professor Yun Hang Hu has developed a new process to recover and dispose of CO2 emissions from point-continuous sources, like power plants and other industry emitters. Through a chemical process, the sequestered CO2 is transformed into two usable products; amorphous carbon nitride (C3N4), a semiconductor; and, lithium cyanamide (Li2CN2), a substance used to formulate fertilizers. This invention provides an energy efficient, exothermic, and cost effective method for converting carbon dioxide, a harmful greenhouse gas, into useful materials.

This technology (U.S. Patent pending) is currently seeking commercialization partners for pilot plant validation. For more information contact Mike Morley in the Office of Innovation and Industry Engagement, (906) 487-3485.

Titanium Dioxide Nanotubes for Irregular Surfaces

Medicine utilizes implants to repair damaged hips, knees and teeth. Various methods have been developed to provide a roughened implant surface that promotes bone growth.  These methods include sandblasting and chemical etching however; high costs and potential toxicity have left the medical device industry looking for better alternatives in preparing artificial joints and teeth for implant.

At Michigan Tech, researchers have developed a system of low cost electrodes (replaces platinum electrodes) that can be positioned to create titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanotubes on an irregular surface.  The resulting nanotubes have an outside diameter of approximately 120nm and a wall thickness of 20nm. The tubes can be etched in a close-packed configuration or free standing configuration.

This technology offers many advantages over current medical implant, surface preparation, methods.  TiO2 nanotubes create an irregular surface conducive to osteoblast colonization and eliminate the need for highly toxic hydrofluoric acid in the etching process.  This technology provides a programmable method for electrochemically etching irregular surface shapes and low cost TiO2 nanotubes replace expensive platinum electrodes with a cheaper electrode material.  The TiO2 nanotube technology is ideally suited for irregular surfaces, is safer than other etching processes and improves the implant surface.

A utility patent application has been filed for this technology and exclusive license terms are available.  For more information contact John Diebel in the Office of Innovation and Industry Engagement, 906-487-1082.

Smart Control System for Suppressing Boom Oscillation in Heavy Hydraulic Equipment

A major problem facing operators of heavy hydraulic equipment is boom oscillation. Speed fluctuations resulting from moving and stopping payloads cause boom oscillations to occur. In turn, these oscillations transfer along the boom to longitudinal oscillation of the excavator body where they result in early wear on mechanical parts and harmful effects on human health including operator fatigue.

Manual correction is impossible given the time to dampen the oscillation for accurate placement of the bucket is greater than the time gained through increasing the maneuver speed. In addition to machine wear and operator health issues, this results in lower productivity.

The solution to this problem is a smart control system, developed at Michigan Tech, that implements an active boom oscillation control in hydraulic equipment. The control system continuously monitors the sensor signal inputs such as the hydraulic pressure profile of boom cylinder. The smart control system continuously analyzes the sensor profiles and evaluates the data to predict boom oscillations. When the system anticipates an upcoming boom oscillation, it generates one or more control impulse input motions to counteract the impending oscillation. The level of oscillation control experienced by test operators operating with this system is substantially greater than experienced with any competing oscillation control strategy or technology.

This technology offers a number of advantages when implemented on excavators, backhoes, wheel loaders and other similar equipment. It can be retrofitted onto existing equipment designs and improves operator’s working environment and performance. This technology also enhances dynamic stability and maximizes the life expectancy of the machine.

The smart control system has been tested at the laboratory and field scale on a commercially produced excavator. Development was in cooperation with a heavy equipment manufacturing company who holds a non-exclusive license. The smart control technology can be incorporated into existing heavy equipment designs and only requires the addition of an inexpensive signal processing control unit.

Additional non-exclusive license terms are available. For licensing information contact Mike Morley in the Office of Innovation and Industry Engagement, 906-487-3485.