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Five ORNL technologies identified for investment toward commercialization

Five technologies invented by scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have been selected for targeted investment through ORNL’s Technology Innovation Program.

“Getting new lab technologies into the U.S. marketplace is critical to protecting the nation’s economy and security,” said Mike Paulus, director of technology transfer at ORNL. “Our TIP program accelerates that transfer by enhancing commercial readiness and raising visibility.”

Since 2012, ORNL has invested more than $11 million in 49 projects, resulting in 35 commercial licenses and options with partners ranging from Fortune 100 companies to early-stage startups.

The five technologies and their inventors are:

Ultraclean condensing furnace, Zhiming Gao, Building and Transportation Science Division. Condensate from furnace equipment is corrosive and contains reactive chemicals. In collaboration with Trane Technologies and the California Statewide Gas Emerging Technologies Program, this project aims to advance, demonstrate and commercialize an ultraclean and efficient natural gas furnace with a compact and cost-effective acidic gas reduction component that removes more than 99.9% of chemical emissions, leading to neutral condensate and clean flue gas. Neutral condensate enables a simpler and less expensive furnace design, which yields higher efficiency and a reduction in installation costs. This technology recently received an R&D 100 Award.

Rapid droplet sampling interface, Vilmos Kertesz, Biosciences Division. This technology is a versatile and cost-effective sample introduction method for rapid chemical analysis of droplets with mass spectrometry. Speed, scale and data quality are essential for high-throughput pharmaceutical and clinical screening laboratories working with complex biology. These labs routinely analyze tens of thousands of samples in a day; improved sampling throughput means millions of dollars in reduced costs. This proposal seeks to assess the capability of the rapid droplet sampling interface in high throughput sampling of targeted molecules with application in large-scale laboratories.

Closed-cell insulation foams enabled by coated and evacuated nanoporous materials, Meghan Lamm, Manufacturing Science Division. This technology incorporates coated, evacuated nanoporous microspheres in a foam thermoset matrix to produce robust, closed-cell insulation foam panels that will outperform both traditional non-vacuum-based conventional insulation materials and vacuum insulation panels. This ORNL technology is easily scalable because it uses formulations and processes that already exist in the manufacturing industry, which provides significant economic value. The process produces materials that are mechanically robust, more environmentally sustainable, more fire- and smoke-retardant and easier to install than current conventional materials.

Mixed plastic recycling by a tailored organocatalyst, Tomonori Saito, Chemical Sciences Division. More than 300 metric tons of plastic waste goes unrecycled every year — $100 billion in lost plastics. Mixed plastics — bottles, packaging, foams, lenses, textiles and carpets — are difficult to recycle by conventional technologies. Saito’s technology is an organocatalyst — small organic molecules that can catalyze reactions in the absence of metals — that can readily deconstruct an array of mixed plastic waste into valuable chemicals. This project will allow further development of the technology using actual plastic waste.

Accelerating the development of orally bioavailable therapeutics for beta-coronaviruses with structure-based molecular design, Brian Sanders, Biosciences Division. New drugs are crucial for therapeutic intervention to COVID-19 and for biopreparedness for future beta-coronavirus outbreaks. A team led by Sanders and co-principal investigator Jerry Parks has developed a potent enzyme inhibitor that halts coronavirus proliferation. The inhibitor has worked well in laboratory experiments involving mammalian cells but needs further development to enhance properties that will result in an effective oral medication. This project aims to advance the promising first-generation inhibitor so that next-generation drug candidates are ready for commercialization and clinical trials.

Each year, a panel of ORNL leaders and commercial experts reviews and selects compelling technologies for a yearlong investment in research, development and outreach. At the year’s end, these technologies are presented to industry partners for potential licensing.

Learn more about the TIP program and past projects available for licensing.

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