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Cornell University


Thursday, December 10, 2015
Postdoc led business enhanced through NSF funds

Cornell Postdoc and Ecolectro co-founder Gabriel Rodriguez-Calero was awarded a $150,000 Phase I SBIR grant by the National Science Foundation to enable low cost, durable fuel cells through novel material innovation.

The original idea was vetted in a Pre-Seed Workshop held at High Tech Rochester in November 2014, where BEST Program participant Rodriguez-Calero made contacts to round out the business side of his team. Together they were awarded a NEXUS-NY grant to talk to their first 60 potential customers, to refine the idea and further examine feasibility. They decided to incorporate and started work on a prototype. This Small Business Innovation Research grant will enable the team to reduce the steps needed to synthesize their novel catalysts to increase manufacturability and scale-up.

Rodriguez-Calero is a half-time postdoc with Geoffrey Coates and Héctor Abruña, in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.

The underlying message to others interested in starting a company? Make use of all the local, regional, statewide and federal resources available!

About NSF SBIRIs it a good fit?

Award Abstract: (quoted from the link below)

The broader impact/commercial potential of this Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project is to develop alkaline anion exchange membranes (AAEM) to enable lower cost and durable fuel cells. Widespread adoption of fuel cell technologies has been difficult due to high costs, which are mostly due to use of precious metal catalysts and the expensive polymer electrolyte components. Using AAEM technology allows the use less expensive non-precious metal catalysts (e.g. stainless steel, nickel, cobalt, and their alloys). Non-precious metals have facile electrochemical reaction kinetics and are stable under alkaline operating conditions making them prime candidates as catalysts. Moreover, the polymer electrolyte, in this case the AAEM, when manufactured at scale should be less expensive than the current technology. This technology has the potential to enable the widespread deployment of fuel cell systems by reducing cost and making fuel cells more economically competitive. 

The technical objectives of this Phase I research project are to decrease the number of steps in the synthesis pathway of AAEMs, while simultaneously reducing time and increasing yields. These reductions in the number of steps will provide time and raw materials savings in the overall synthesis of the polymer. The increased yield of the reaction will ensure more efficient use of raw materials that in the end will provide a more sustainable pathway to make the AAEMs, while providing some added cost benefits. Increasing the reaction yields and decreasing the number of steps will provide reductions in production time that can be directly related to increasing manufacturing efficiency and lowering labor costs. The technical objectives will provide necessary information to scale-up production of AAEMs. Proving these technical development milestones is of crucial importance for the further development, specifically scale-up, and commercialization of our technology.

See for more information.