Illuminex Corporation, based in Lancaster, PA, recently closed a $500K financing round from undisclosed investors. Combined with the Company's multiple State and Federal research grants, this funding will provide over one year of operating runway for Illuminex to accelerate the development and commercialization of functional nanomaterials for commercial devices aimed at emerging alternative energy markets.
These include lithium-ion batteries, heat pipes for thermal management, and photovoltaics for producing sustainable solar electricity. The Company is seeking strategic partnerships and additional funding.
Founded by nano-physicists from MIT, Illuminex is commercializing devices based on a platform nanowire array process technology. The Company has developed novel, cost-effective methods for manufacturing nanowire arrays on low-cost substrates using aluminum in a multi-functional capacity. The nanowires resemble bristles on a toothbrush, where each "bristle" is 1/1000th the thickness of a human hair and there are 1 billion "bristles" per square centimeter. The processes Illuminex utilizes to produce the nanowire arrays are readily scalable for mass production.
Company CEO Joe Habib states, "Illuminex's capabilities and methods for engineering nanowire arrays using numerous materials on diverse substrates is what makes the company unique. We are applying these techniques to create novel materials with unique functions by leveraging the small size, uniformity, and density of the nano-structures. These functional nanomaterials could be very important in developing sustainable energy solutions."
Illuminex has begun sampling copper-silicon nanocomposites for use as high capacity lithium ion battery anodes. The nanowires will allow high energy density with very low fade rates and the production techniques are conducive to large-scale, low-cost manufacturing.
Graphite, the most commonly used anode in lithium-ion batteries, has a limited charge capacity (372 mAh/g) that is particularly problematic for applications such as electric vehicles. Silicon has the highest known charge capacity (11 times greater than graphite), making it a highly attractive anode material. However, silicon expands (up to 400%) as it reacts with lithium and disintegrates from the stress when sufficient quantities are used, thus preventing the implementation of this important technology. Illuminex Cu-Si nanocomposite anodes allow silicon to be used by imparting structural support to the silicon with copper nanowires that act analogously to rebar in concrete, while imparting highly effective electrical exchange and added thermal stability.
Another device that Illuminex is prototyping is nanowire photovoltaic (PV) cells based on a dense array of silicon diode nanowires. The PV nanowire material has a theoretical efficiency of 35%, greater than bulk crystalline silicon (typically 20% efficient). Nanowire PV-based cells also use 1/100th the amount of silicon per unit PV cell area as silicon wafer-based cells, potentially offering a much lower $/KWh cost. Illuminex can fabricate the silicon nanowires on glass, metal, threads, or virtually any surface that can be coated.
Illuminex is also developing nanowire-based heat pipes that use copper nanowires as the wick material, replacing conventional sintered copper powder. The nanowire heat pipes currently have 30% lower thermal resistance than conventional wicks and perform at input heat fluxes exceeding 350 W/cm, where sintered powder fails catastrophically. Modified Illuminex nanowire wicks could improve heat pipe efficiency by 5 times conventional sintered powder heat pipes at comparable cost. Illuminex is targeting heat pipe markets for servers/PCs, microprocessors, military and industrial use, and in broader markets for nanowire based thermal interface materials. For additional information, contact George Lauro, Member, Illuminex Board of Directors and Partner, Alteon Capital Partners