When chemical researcher Bill Gore left DuPont more than a half century ago to form his own materials company, W.L. Gore, he did so with the parent firm's blessing. When Doug McKenna, a W.L. Gore researcher, was working with a technology that, he says, "fell outside of the company's interests," he formed his own company in 2000 to develop it. "I did so with [W.L. Gore's] support, just as Bill Gore had received DuPont's support."
After several years of experimentation, McKenna's company, Micropore Inc., developed a product trademarked "ExtendAir." In essence, it allows the extension of oxygen supplies in critical situations, some of them military. "Our mission is to make products that make a difference in people's lives," says McKenna.
The product's technology depends on the formation of reactive plastics that incorporate certain powders into a molded matrix, resulting in a CO2-absorbing system that is used in "re-breathing" and life support systems.
McKenna estimates that total applications of the product provide several billion dollars' worth of opportunities.
Micropore's first headline-grabbing application allowed Navy SEAL divers to reduce the work of breathing by 15 percent while lowering the likelihood of "caustic cocktail" formation - caused when water mixes with a chemical dusting of granular absorbents. Additionally, the product is quick to load and is very resistant to shock and vibration experienced during combat missions.
Other applications in development include recreational diving, health care, submarine technology, mining and personal safety. McKenna says there are also potential uses involving industrial gas systems used by the U.S. Air Force and Navy.
Additionally, "We've just launched a new medical product that is the first major advance in CO2-absorbent technology in almost 100 years," he says. Called "SpiraLith," it has pre-formed air passages that avoid dust formation. Dust shortens the life and efficacy of patient breathing systems.
McKenna says Micropore, which has facilities in Newark and nearby Maryland, has profited from Delaware's support network of people and organizations. "Mike Bowman at the Delaware Technology Park has been a tremendous partner in support of the work that we are doing at Micropore," he says. "Of course, the state is known for the companies that have incorporated here, and I was helped greatly by the legal advice of Fish & Richardson in Wilmington when we were getting incorporated."
Last fall, Micropore received more good news when it and its distribution partner were awarded a
$5 million, sole-source, five-year contract to supply ExtendAir products for the Naval Special Warfare Command.