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State backs 5 tech projects with DTIP grants

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The development of R&D startups, like RiKarbon at the STAR Campus, has increased rapidly in Delaware in the last decade. The state’s DTIP grants have helped that development. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

The state’s incentive investment board, the Council on Development Finance, signed off on five $50,000 Delaware Technical Innovation Program (DTIP) grants Monday that back work being done by four startup Delaware firms.

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.

DTIP supplements those federal funds, allowing work to progress while firms navigate the complex grant programs. A company can receive a maximum of $50,000 – and they typically do – and receive only five such grants in a rolling 10-year period.

RiKarbon

Basudeb Saha, founder of RiKarbon, talks to a congressional delegation at a 2021 visit to Delaware Technology Park. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Led by Basudeb Saha, a published researcher who previously worked in Dow Chemical’s polyurethane division, the startup based at Delaware Technology Park on the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus aims to create a non-oil-based lubricant from waste feedstock, like corn.

The development of such a lubricant, which has a $158 billion global market in industrial and commercial applications, principally in the automotive industry, would help reduce petroleum production, agricultural waste and plastic production, Saha said.

RiKarbon’s team of four researchers, three consultants and five advisors is working with oil companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron and Phillips66 to license and develop the product, and bring it to scale. They expect to begin producing revenue as early as 2024, with the first decade of sales capable of bringing in upward of $70 million, Saha said.

While other companies are doing research for other petroleum alternatives in the lubricant market, Saha said they aren’t aware of a competitor working with the same specifications as RiKarbon.

Extreme Scale Solutions

An 8-year-old data analytics and computing firm led by researcher Rishi Khan and headquartered in the New Castle Corporate Commons, Extreme Scale Solutions (ESS) seeks to use very advanced mathematics and heavy-duty computing power to crunch data more efficiently.

It received two DTIP grants for separate projects focused on separate industries.

The first is known as Tensor Algebra Compiler, or TACO, and essentially eases the writing of complex data computer code and increases the code’s portability between systems, which currently is a major challenge for programmers, Khan said.

It will seek to commercialize the proprietary software by first offering it as a consulting service to small and medium-sized companies, while developing a build-to-suit version for large companies in the future. Khan said a continuously updated subscription service would help companies crunch datasets for solutions.

The second ESS project deals with the energy industry and aims to use high-level mathematics and computing power to shorten geological surveying time under the Earth’s crust. Companies are looking to sequester trapped carbon dioxide in pockets underground, benefitting the Earth’s climate, but oil companies also use that gas to help push pockets of oil out of reservoirs as well.

Computing the data of underground geology can take weeks for one scan, Khan explained, and changing even one variable can restart that clock. ESS aims to use artificial intelligence to build a predictive analytics system for that mapping, drastically cutting down on the wait time.

This project would be tailored as a cloud service for a limited number of computations for customers or as a consultancy for large companies, Khan said. So far, Chevron and Occidental Petroleum Corp. have been working with ESS on the project. 

Talos Tech

Hansan Liu, Founder of Talos Tech | PHOTO COURTESY OF STATE OF DELAWARE

Founded by former senior DuPont scientist Hansan Liu in 2016, Talos Tech aims to leverage proprietary battery technology licensed from DuPont to advance battery technology. The $50,000 DTIP grant supports a project to create specialty batteries for use by NASA in its $1 billion space mission to land on the surface of Venus by 2030.

With temperatures above 400 degrees with a heavy atmospheric pressure and an atmosphere that’s mainly carbon dioxide, typical technology is unlikely to operate on Venus, Liu explained. His firm aims to create a battery that can use the high temperatures and carbon dioxide to generate electricity.

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 and received a $50,000 DTIP grant last year to support a different battery project.

ThruPore Technologies

Dr. Francessa Sayler

Francessa Sayler, President and CEO of ThruPore | DBT FILE PHOTO

Spun out of the University of Alabama nine years ago, ThruPore Technologies is now headquartered in the New Castle Corporate Commons and researching, developing and manufacturing an HVAC filter that kills 99.99% of airborne viruses.

The DTIP grant will help the firm led by Francessa Sayler to develop a system to manufacture commercial air filters with its proprietary antiviral coating applied to them.

The material, which Sayler described as essentially an improved charcoal, has been trademarked as Dr. Filter and manufactured on a small scale – commercial real estate owner-operator NAI Emory Hill has been a client, along with New Castle County government.

ThruPore quickly outsold its inventory though and is now looking to partner with established commercial air filter manufacturers where its material could be an additive. The firm has already been talking with several manufacturers on the project, including FilterBuy, Sayler said.

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