Graphene Devices, a Niagara Falls-based start-up, has secured more than $600,000 in state and federal awards to explore novel uses for graphene, a carbon nanomaterial, and ways to optimize its production using processes a University at Buffalo research team invented.
Graphene coatings and solutions can enhance the strength and electrical and thermal properties of composites including plastic and inks. To manufacture the material, Graphene Devices uses innovative processes that UB chemist Sarbajit Banerjee, an assistant professor, developed with graduate students Vincent Lee, Luisa Whittaker, Robert Dennis and Brian Schultz.
The processes enable the company to scale up production, yielding enough graphene to make manufacturing commercially viable -- something few other businesses have achieved. Graphene Devices also employs techniques that Banerjee and collaborators invented to coat a variety of surfaces with graphene.
Funding that Graphene Devices has secured since spring includes:
- $466,000 from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to refine the firm's production process and study graphene's potential as a replacement for the costly conductive coatings on solar cells and display technologies. NYSERDA announced the two-year award in May.
- $80,000 from the U.S. Navy Small Business Innovation Research program to investigate the benefits of adding graphene to acrylics used in the windshields and windows of fighter planes. The graphene additive could strengthen the acrylics and shield against electromagnetic interference. The Navy announced the award in August, and Graphene Devices could be invited to apply for hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional funding if initial research goes well.
- $70,000 from the U.S. Army Small Business Innovation Research program to develop a nano-magnesium-graphene alloy for use as strong, light-weight structural materials and armor. The Army announced the award in September, and Graphene Devices could be invited to apply for hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional funding if initial research goes well.
- $22,000 from the UB Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technology (UB CAT) to study a graphene coating process for medical devices. The UB CAT announced the award in July. The funding builds on $14,000 the company received from the UB CAT this spring for the project. National Grid is awarding another $25,000 through the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the UB CAT. The UB CAT, located in UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, is one of 15 Centers for Advanced Technology at universities across New York State that receive annual funding from the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR).
Graphene Devices, launched last year, now has three full-time employees: CEO Robert Anstey; a chemical engineer; and a battery materials engineer. The company is looking to hire a chief scientist and a product manager.
The firm retains close connections to UB. Banerjee serves on the company's technical advisory board, along with Mark Swihart, UB professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Alexander Cartwright, UB interim vice president for research.
Banerjee, Swihart and UB Assistant Professor Javid Rzayev, a chemist, are working on Graphene Devices' funded projects, bringing more than $150,000 of the company's research dollars to the university.
UB also has a stake in Graphene Devices: In exchange for equity in the business, the university licensed to Graphene Devices the production processes Banerjee developed. One patent is pending on the technology, and an application for a second patent is in the works. The UB Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach oversaw the patent application process and licensing.
Graphene Devices CEO Anstey, who grew up in Amherst and moved back to Western New York recently after living in other U.S. cities and abroad, says he hopes his firm can boost the local economy, contributing to the growth of the region's high-tech and renewable energy industries.
"Our most important asset we have in Buffalo Niagara is our intellectual capacity," Anstey says. "One reason I moved back is I have seen innovation in places like New York City and Boston, and there's no reason that kind of innovation can't be nurtured in this region. It's important for us to not only invent new ideas and products, but also to produce and manufacture them here."
Since returning to Buffalo Niagara, Anstey has leveraged a variety of UB and state resources to grow his company, he said.
UB STOR and the UB CAT have put Anstey in touch with potential business partners including venture capitalists and members of Graphene's advisory board. Directed Energy, an alternative energy business incubator program that UB STOR runs with funding from NYSERDA, helped Anstey apply for Graphene Devices' Navy contract. The firm also participated in the Pre-Seed Workshop, an annual entrepreneur boot-camp the UB CAT holds to help companies develop their business plan and meet key contacts.
As the 2010 winner of UB's Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition, an annual contest that UB STOR organizes together with the School of Management, Graphene Devices received more than $10,000 in cash and services.