Category Archives: Materials

Computational Modeling for Improved Materials and Structures

Odegard, GregProf. Odegard is the Richard and Elizabeth Henes Professor of Computational Mechanics in the Department of Mechanical Engineering – Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Technological University. His research is focused on computational modeling of advanced materials and structures for the aerospace, power transmission, and alternative fuels industries.

Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. As computers become increasingly fast, more opportunities exist to design new technologies in a purely computational environment. Computational modeling can cut development costs, speed up the design process, and provide insights where traditional Edisonian methods can’t. Prof. Odegard’s research group is involved in two main projects that utilize computational modeling for new technologies.

Prof. Odegard is the MTU site director of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Industry/University Collaborative Research Center (I/UCRC) titled “Center for Novel High Voltage/Temperature Materials and Structures”. The goal of this center is to leverage federal and industrial funding to develop new materials to withstand harsh environments. Specifically, the center is focused on materials for the power transmission and aerospace industries. Computational modeling has helped speed up the process of developing new highly electrically conducting aluminum alloys for power transmission lines and temperature-resistant composite materials for aerospace vehicles. For these projects, Prof. Odegard’s team is working closely with center members Boeing, General Cable, Bonneville Power Administration, and Western Area Power Administration, and CTC Global.

Figure 1 – Computational modeling of conformable CNG tank

Figure 1 – Computational modeling of conformable CNG tank

As part of a $2.1M grant from Southwestern Energy, Prof. Odegard’s team is using computational modeling to facilitate the development of a conformable compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel tank for light-duty trucks. Traditional CNG tanks have a cylindrical geometry, which make them awkward to use in smaller vehicles and trucks. In conjunction with REL Inc., a Calumet-based partner in the project, the computational modeling is being used to help design conformable CNG tanks (Figure 1) before they are fabricated and tested, which greatly reduces the overall development costs.

White Carbon Materials for Advanced Heat Management

Yoke Khin YapDr. Yoke Khin Yap, professor in the Michigan Tech Department of Physics at Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech), has invented a novel class of boron nitride (BN) nanomaterials for advanced heat management. BN phases are structurally similar to those of carbon solids. We have hexagonal phase-BN (h-BN), cubic phase-BN (c-BN), BN nanotubes (BNNTs), BN nanosheets (BNNSs, mono- and few- layered h-BN sheets). These BN structures are analogous to graphite, diamonds, carbon nanotubes (CNTs), and graphene, respectively [1]. Therefore, BN materials can be referred as “white carbon” as they are white in appearance due to their large band gap (~6eV).

Despite the structural similarity, the properties of BN materials are different from those of carbon solids. For example, graphite is electrically conducting while h- BN is insulating due to their large band gap. A common property among the BN and carbon materials is their high heat conductivity that hold potential applications for advanced heat management. BN nanostructures are predicted to have a thermal conductivity, as high as 2000 W/m-K, about 10-times higher than that of metals [2]. Therefore, BN materials can be in contact with active electrical components to dissipate heat without the risk of an electrical short circuit.

Dr. Yap is a leading expert in BN nanomaterials, specializing in the technology of direct synthesis of BNNTs and wavy BNNSs on substrates. BNNTs developed by Dr. Yap are of high purity and high quality, two desirable attributes for applications in electronic devices. The wavy BNNSs are unique in that they have full surface contact with the substrates. They also have wavy edges that stick out from the substrate surface to enhance the contact area with the surrounding cool air/environment. Michigan Tech demonstrates that the coatings of BNNTs and wavy BNNSs can both enhance the heat dissipation rate of hot Silicon chips by as much as 250% in static ambient air.

Figure 1 shows the appearance of BNNTs (top row) and the wavy BNNSs (bottom row) under a scanning electron microscope. As shown, BNNTs are long in length (~40 microns), offering a large contact surface area with air, an important feature to accelerate heat dissipation. However their small diameter (20-50nm), results in a very small contact area with the hot substrate surface.

YKYap boron nitride nanomaterials

In contrast, the wavy BNNSs offer a much larger surface area to contact with the hot substrate surface. Their wavy edges also provide an enhanced contact area with the surrounding cool air but smaller than that offered by BNNTs. The Yap research group have combined the benefits of both materials by growing BNNTs on top of the wavy BNNSs. Results indicate that such uniquely combined BNNT/BNNS structures in the presences of gas flows promote cooling better than BNNTs and BNNSs alone.

Finally, the Michigan Tech team has also demonstrated that these BNNSs and BNNTs can be transferred to desired surfaces. They found that BNNTs and BNNSs grown on Si substrates can be peeled and transferred on to fresh Si substrates. This suggests that these novel BN nanomaterials can be transferred on to hot surfaces of electrical and electronic devices to promote cooling. Michigan Tech has filed a utility patent application and is seeking industry partners to help commercialize the technology. Please contact Michael Morley ( for further information.



[1]. Y. K. Yap, “B-C-N Nanotubes, Nanosheets, Nanoribbons, and Related


[2]. T. Ouyang, Y. P. Chen, Y. Xie, K. K. Yang, Z. G. Bao, J. X. Zhong, “Thermal

Transport in Hexagonal Boron Nitride Nanoribbons,” Nanotechnology 21, 245701


MTRAC Program Accelerates Commercialization Potential

Through a grant from the 21st Century Jobs Trust Fund, received through the Michigan Strategic Fund from the State of Michigan, Michigan Tech is moving advanced applied materials research closer to benefiting people and our planet.  The Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) program is supporting the acceleration of commercially viable advanced applied material technologies developed by university researchers.

Two other Michigan universities were also awarded MTRAC grants in 2013.  The University of Michigan has two MTRAC programs focusing on life sciences and transportation while Michigan State University’s grant supports advancing ag-bio technologies.

Guided by an oversight committee of entrepreneurs, investors, and leading faculty researchers, four Michigan Tech teams were selected in June 2014 from among sixteen proposal submissions.   John Diebel, MTRAC Program Director at Michigan Tech explains the rigorous review process, “In order for a faculty or team of researchers to submit a proposal, there has to be an invention disclosure on file with the university to determine that there is a high potential for commercialization.  The application process uses a multi-phase submission including a Letter of Intent, an invitation to submit a proposal and then a full proposal submission, which may require modifications to meet the oversight committee’s recommendation to move forward. The final step in the selection process concludes after an inventor presentation to the Oversight Committee.”  The program provides fifty percent of the project funding and the university and the Principal Investigator must provide the matching funds.

John Diebel, MTRAC Program Director, Michigan Technological University


The four projects currently being conducted at Michigan Tech include mineral removal from torrefied agricultural wastes as a sustainable replacement for pulverized coal in utility boilers, led by Ezra Bar-Ziv (ME-EM); commercialization and purification of oligonucleotides and peptides for research and therapeutic markets, led by Shiyue Fang (Chem); commercialization of a nanosensor platform, led by Tom Daunais and Paul Bergstrom (ECE); and, commercialization of a scalable synthesis process for 3-dimensional graphene materials by Yun Hang Hu (MSE).

How will these projects impact people and the planet?  Bar-Ziv’s project could yield a sustainable and renewable alternative fuel to help the utility industry meet renewable resource and greenhouse gas emission targets.  Fang’s project would provide a method for efficiently producing pharmaceutically-pure drugs for treatment of many diseases including cancer other life threatening illnesses.  Daunais’ project would allow for rapid testing of foodborne pathogens-a process that currently takes days.  This would allow food to pass criteria to begin shipping to markets and stores more quickly reducing waste and spoilage.  And Hu’s project could lead to innovations in regenerative braking, solar power, grid management systems, defense weaponry, and provide the ability to recover kinetic energy in a host of other industrial applications.

The next Michigan Tech MTRAC program cycle will be announced in December 2014 with a call for Letter of Intent submissions due in mid-January.  For more information, please contact John Diebel at 906-487-1082 or by email

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   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.

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.