Delaware OKs tech grants to small firms
DOVER – The state’s investment board signed off on $50,000 Delaware Technical Innovation Program (DTIP) grants Monday that back work being done by two small New Castle County firms.
Talos Tech, a 4-year-old company founded and led by Hansan Liu, is seeking to make a more efficient battery, while Compact Membrane Systems, a decades-old company led by CEO Erica Nemser, is seeking to advance its work on a membrane that could remove ethylene gas from fruits and vegetables to prolong their freshness.
DTIP grants are available to companies that have completed Phase I and applied for Phase II of the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs as they work to bring new products to market. The federal programs work as seed funds for small firms that are working on research and development of technical issues across many different sectors.
The SBIR/STTR programs have three phases, with the first awarding up to $250,000 to establish the technical merit, feasibility, and commercial potential of proposed research and development efforts. If successful, Phase II funding can total as much as $1.7 million. Phase III is unfunded, but companies work toward commercialization and/or signing government contracts.
Talos Tech obtained a $100,000 SBIR grant in 2016 when it was then located at the University of Delaware STAR Campus. It has since relocated to 2,500 square feet of space in the New Castle Airport Industrial Park with four employees.
Talos licensed proprietary battery material from DuPont and has been working toward creating a more efficient battery to power next-generation technology.
On Monday, Liu told the Council on Development Finance, which oversees the state DTIP grants, that the funds would support his firm’s efforts to create a “low-cost and environmentally friendly process to synthesize battery power.” He said the technology will have a broad range of applications in consumer devices, medical devices, electric vehicles, and military and aerospace industries.
Liu has applied for a $1.15 million Phase II SBIR grant and is also preparing a patent application related to his research. He told the council that he also has other similar technologies that may get funding and that he expects to be able to add staff in Delaware as the work progresses.
Like Talos, Compact Membrane Systems (CMS) is a DuPont spinoff and now develops its own fluoropolymers for membrane applications. CMS is returning to its work that it began on fruit preservation back in 2006, when its idea was backed with a $296,000 SBIR grant. Last year it received another $100,000 SBIR grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to try to solve the problem.
The Newport-based company has since focused its work on chemical separation techniques utilized by the petrochemical and marine industries. It’s preparing early commercialization efforts in larger-scale projects with Braskem and Dow.
The company’s chief technology officer Hannah Murnen told the council that its petrochemical work led to discoveries that could aid produce transport. As some fruit and vegetables ripen, they produce ethylene as a byproduct that also speeds the ripening process. Removing that gas can slow ripening, extending the shelf life for harvested produce.
“Our membranes are actually quite good at removing ethylene from containers and storage, either packaging on the shelf or storage in a warehouse,” Murnen said. “Thus far, our work has shown that we are able to remove ethylene at very low concentrations, as you would expect in a fruit or vegetable storage container. Our next steps are going to be actually doing controlled studies of fruit ripening to understand the impact of the ethylene removal.”
Murnen noted that the research was especially timely as the COVID-19 pandemic has affected worldwide food harvests and supply chains and changed consumer habits, convincing many to reduce their number of trips to the store. CMS’ membrane could be integrated into a container ship’s storage or possibly into the product consumers buy, with patches of the membrane added to bagged apples, for instance. The membrane would keep air from getting into the bag but also allow the undesirable ethylene to flow out.
“I think the technology is quite unique in the way that it accomplishes the ethylene removal, which gives it a lot of flexibility in the way you use it,” Murnen said.
By Jacob Owens