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Nanotechnology Innovation Can Lead to Billions in Savings

Neil Young said it in 1979: Rust never sleeps. Today, Battelle researchers have taken his words to heart. In their innovative heads, they have come up with a smart coating that can reveal where corrosion is forming on metal even though one can't see the degradation with the naked eye.

Battelle's Smart Coating would make it possible to detect corrosion before it can do damage. (Photo: Business Wire)

Ramanathan Lalgudi, a principal research scientist, and Barry McGraw, a program manager, both of whom work in Battelle's Advanced Materials Applications Department, were working on a nanomaterial project when a new application for their work jumped out at them.

They were attaching groups of chemicals on the surface of nanomaterials and studying their effectiveness towards the environment. That led them to the idea of using the same technical approach to detect corrosion. What if the corrosion product on a material could react with the functional nanomaterials?

The end result: A true early corrosion detection method. They created a smart coating derived from the functional nanomaterial that could be applied between a primer and topcoat and fluoresces once a corrosion product is generated from the metal. In this case, the metal is aluminum, but the chemistry can be tweaked for other metals.

This will be invaluable for many industries. Any metal object begins to falter as it corrodes-airplanes, cars, bridges-just to name a few. The Department of Defense estimates that corrosion of its equipment costs $10 to $20 billion per year. If one can repair metal before it's demonstrably compromised, the savings could be astronomical in terms of time, energy, material and money.

Imagine this: An airline mechanic goes over the outer shell of an airplane with a hand-held device, shining it all over its surface. He sees a spot, determines it is corrosion, and he fixes it before it can do any damage.

Lalgudi said the smart coating could even be married to a primer or integrated with the scanning device. Battelle has a provisional patent for the intellectual property and though the material is two to three years away from commercialization, Lalgudi and McGraw and their business line colleagues are seeking partners to help take it to market.

Battelle is the world's largest non-profit independent research and development organization, providing innovative solutions to the world's most pressing needs through its four global businesses: Laboratory Management, National Security, Energy Technology, and Health and Life Sciences. It advances scientific discovery and application by conducting $4 billion in global R&D annually through contract research, laboratory management and technology commercialization. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, Battelle oversees 20,400 employees in more than 120 locations worldwide, including seven national laboratories which Battelle manages or co-manages for the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Battelle's Global National Security business applies science and technology to solve complex technical challenges for the military services and federal agencies. Including the operations of national laboratories, Battelle annually performs nearly $1.6 billion in national security-related work contributing to advances in chemical and biological defense, homeland security, armor, technology refreshment, and undersea technology.

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