Aculon Offers Cleantech Breakthrough as it Commercializes Nanocoating Technology

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in surface chemistry and related innovations by Jeffrey Schwartz, a Princeton professor of chemistry. Schwartz’s team found ways to use phosphorous acids to create an unusually strong (covalent) bonding effect with oxides on the surface of metals that are traditionally non-reactive.

Acculon, which has about 12 employees, says it has strengthened its initial IP position with 15 additional inventions.

Aculon’s Hughes told me this phosphonate layer is just one molecule thick, or 2 to 4 nanometers, and can be applied in a way that makes the nanocoating “sticky” like Velcro, or “slippery” like Teflon. “What Aculon has done is take this nanotechnology out of the laboratory and put it into commercial-scale applications,” Hughes told me. “We basically provide the coating and the treatment material. We work with customers to supply them with the treatment.”

For example, Hughes said Acculon’s adhesive nanocoating has proved useful in the semiconductor and electronics industries by getting nonconducting (dialectric) resins to adhere to the copper foil used in printed circuit boards. The company’s proprietary slippery nanocoating is both water-repellant and oil-repellant, and has been commercialized for prescription eyeglasses made by Hilco of Plainville, MA, and sunglasses made by Oakley of Foothill Ranch, CA. Aculon says its slippery nanocoating also can be used to coat touch screens such as those used in iPhones, iPods and other mobile electronic devices, as well as displays in cell phones, laptop computers, and other electronics.

Hughes sees an array of unorthodox markets for Aculon’s coatings in industrial and consumer markets, including the automotive aftermarket for custom wheels. Cleaning brake dust from such wheels can be a challenge, Hughes said. But with Aculon’s slippery nanocoating, “We can treat a chrome wheel so you can literally hose the brake dust off.”

“The beauty about nanotechnology,” Hughes later said, “is what you’re doing is taking existing materials and adding value with these super-thin films.”

Aculon has been largely self-funded, with substantial help from a handful of “high net-worth” investors, Hughes said. Asked if he planned to raise venture capital, Hughes said, “We’re not sure we’re going to go that route. The best money is customer money.”

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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