The Center for Microfibrous Materials Manufacturing uses high speed, wet-lay paper-making processes to manufacture low cost, high performance, 3-D microfibrous materials and structures specifically designed to dramatically increase physical rate phenomena.

The center was founded in June, 1996 at Auburn University. The center was created to facilitate research development, education, technology transfer, and economic development by establishing a small scale manufacturing facility to produce microfibrous materials. These materials were invented at Auburn University, and the intellectual property is owned and patented by the University.

The History of the Center

Introduction and Background

In 1987, various inventors within the Chemical Engineering Department envisioned a new type of microfibrous material which possesses unique and beneficial physical properties as an electrode, catalyst, electrocatalyst, sensor, and adsorbent, among others. Attributes of this material are an inexpensive and environmentally friendly paper-based manufacturing process and over 15 different advanced technology industrial applications once the paper preforms are sintered in a high temperature hydrogen furnace. The beneficial physical attributes of the final materials are so superior, in fact, that numerous new applications and commercial opportunities are made possible for the first time. The University has invested significant resources in pursuing patent protection covering many aspects of this technology resulting in four issued U.S. patents between 1992 and 1994, and a host of foreign applications in various stages of examination, allowance or issuance.

There has been significant interest in this material, resulting in a number of follow-on federal and industrial contracts and licensing inquiries. Three industrial licenses have now been executed to date including Exxon, Maxwell Laboratories and Memtec America for applications in the areas of hydrocarbon processing, capacitors and filtration, respectively. Three other option/development agreements have been executed with ABB – Lummus, Chemetics International and EPRI in the areas of microengineered catalyst structures, hydrogen peroxide production and Ni- Zn/Zn – air batteries, respectively. Various other technology applications are under investigation and contract/licensing discussions are ongoing.

The Need and Opportunity

A key stumbling block in promoting further developmental contract research and industrial licensing activities has been the University’s inability to prepare larger scale samples and continuous rolls (i.e.,l to 100 ft2) of the patented materials. Larger scale samples are required for proof-of-principle demonstrations of manufacturability, scale-up and performance evaluations in various prototypes. Larger scale samples are also required for testing by industry’s own R&D, Applications, and Pilot-Scale laboratories. Current University samples are prepared in the I to 10cm2 range using batch processes for both paper-making and sintering. Continuous processes must be examined using larger scale continuous equipment for (i) the paper-making and (ii) the sintering.

Advantages and Benefits of the Initiative

First and foremost, Auburn will be investing to implement an initiative to increase the value of its own intellectual property and the marketability of its research in a number of different academic departments and colleges. The proposed research and development activities are a logical and proactive extension of Auburn’s technology transfer efforts in this area.

Our efforts will be extensively leveraged not only through existing contracts and grants but also through new and larger contracts emphasizing industry-university cooperative efforts focused toward development and commercialization. Such efforts are timely and provide good matches to current national trends emphasizing industrial downsizing/outsourcing, increased national competitiveness, and better leveraging of national resources (viz., the universities). Industries contracting with Auburn for intermediate size samples will insert these materials directly into in-house R&D/testing programs at their expense. Auburn can therefore leverage its past investments in research, resources, and intellectual property against much larger industrial investments in R&D, manufacturing, sales, and distribution.

The scale-up of this Auburn technology represents the next logical step in the ongoing technology transfer process. It allows us to redefine technology transfer not as a discontinuous “hand-off and hope,” but rather as a supportive and continuous “hands-on” partnership with industry. By providing a platform for both scale-up and development, we enhance the training, experience, entrepreneurship, and overall value of the student while at the same time offering a timely, attractive and cost effective service to industry.