Houston’s C-Voltaics Takes Nanotech From Solar Power to Stain Protection
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SCHN’s proprietary formula contains no chemicals that are on any EPA watch lists.)
For the University of Houston, C-Voltaics is the first nanotech startup and a keystone of its efforts to boost its Energy Research Park, a 700,000 square-foot development of 20 buildings that the university has turned into incubator space for startups that evolve from students’ or faculties’ research. C-Voltaics can currently make as much as 400 gallons of SCHN on-site and hopes to double that capacity with the installation of larger equipment that can produce 2,000 gallons daily.
“We want to support him to see how far we can take this technology to create a blockbuster product,” says Rathindra Bose, U of H’s vice chancellor/vice president for research and technology.
I met Curran on Friday at C-Voltaics’ new office and workshop at the University of Houston, where he demonstrated how different types of cloth—camouflage khakis, netted gym shorts—become water-repellent after SCHN is applied to it. When water is poured on the surface, it simply beads up into balls and slides around. The water slides off the cloth, which is left feeling completely dry. A video on C-Voltaics’ website shows other examples of cloth repelling liquids such as red wine, Gatorade, and coffee.
Curran also showed me a wooden model house that had been submerged in Houston’s bayou water to mimic the flooding that occurred here during Hurricane Ike in 2008. Half of the house had been treated with SCHN, while the other half had been left alone. The murky green residue that indicated the high-water mark on one side did not appear on the side that had been treated.
Curran has been a U of H physics professor for six years and is the director of its Institute for NanoEnergy. The university has supported the startup by seeking a patent for SCHN and has licensed the technology back to C-Voltaics in exchange for an 8 percent equity stake and royalties.
In addition, C-Voltaics has an unnamed angel investor, who put in $500,000. The startup has also entered into contracts on the INSCX Exchange, a nanomaterials marketplace based in Manchester, England. The exchange operates like a line-of-credit facility for nanomaterials, where C-Voltaics will draw down on credit backed by customers’ orders, Curran says.
The chemical emerged out of research Curran was doing into solar cells—hence, the name C-Voltaics—and looking for ways to eliminate the shadow from dust that settled on the cells, making them less efficient or inoperable. “His discoveries seem to have great potential to meet industry’s need for an environmentally friendly material that improves the performance of solar cells,” Bose says.
In the meantime, Curran is focusing on getting SCHN to manufacturers and consumers. After C-Voltaics was in the news for some recent business awards, Curran says he’s been deluged with requests from potential customers about pilot programs and purchase orders. C-Voltaics is also looking at making a consumer product available at home-improvement stores by next spring.
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