In its November 2, 2015 issue, Chemical and Engineering News described ten new startups that show considerable promise. One of these, Bolt Threads, which has discovered how to make synthetic silk, was covered in my June 8th, 2015 post. Like most of the ten startups, Bolt has received substantial funding, in this case from venture capital firms. While few, if any of the startups are likely to become unicorns (defined as startups with billion dollar valuations before going public or being acquired), they are all quite unusual – and of particular interest to people with a fascination for chemistry.
Slips Technologies, as its name implies, develops chemicals that make surfaces slippery. With a grant from DARPA, the firm is developing marine coatings that thwart barnacles and mussels and keep ships moving more smoothly. Another application is to prevent ice formation on roofs. And medical tubing can be treated to prevent blood clotting. BASF has invested in Slips to develop Slips-coated thermoplastic polyurethanes. In another application, Slips is working on a paint additive that will allow paint to easily be poured out of its can.
Connora Technologies is working on solving the problem that carbon fiber composites cannot be recycled. This remains a major drawpoint for broadscale use of these composites in the transportation industry (In Europe, 85% of each auto must be made of recyclable material). The approach is to mix polyamino acetal-based chemicals into the mix of epoxy liquids and amine curing agents to create acid-cleavable bonds. Thus, when a recycled carbon fiber composite-based part is immersed in acetic acid at 100 degrees C, the fiber is filtered out and recovered. The recovered polymer is a thermoplastic that can also be reused.
Then, there is Carbon3D, which was recently described by its inventor and CEO, Dr. Joseph DeSimone, who is at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This invention can be thought of as next generation 3D printing as it would greatly increase the speed of printing various objects using the current “additive” method. Instead of layering slices on a platform, Carbon3D’s printer actually grows the object in a pool of resin. (See Dr. DeSimone’s TED speech impressively demonstrating this by printing a complex shape during the 19 minutes of the speech! ) DeSimone claims that his method can print objects 100 times faster than conventional 3D printing and that both rigid plastics and elastomeric objects can be made by this technique. Carbon3D has received $ 143 million in funding from Sequoia Capital, Google and Silverlake Partners.