EDC Insights

Dec 21
Economic Development Council

Sums are Greater than the Parts: Advanced Materials

By Economic Development Council
Bookmark and Share
headshot_awise.jpgAlison Wise, Clean Technology Business Development Manager

When people think of clean technology, they usually think of clean power and clean water.  Another focus that is integral to the clean technology landscape is known as the Advanced Materials sector.  This industry sector is comprised of members of a value chain that is innovating in ways that apply new materials and modifications to existing materials to obtain superior performance that is critical for the application under consideration. They can also exhibit completely novel properties. In the Seattle-King County region, many industry participants are on the cutting edge of these new networks of opportunities.  Companies like Boeing use these materials in their manufacturing processes; for example, the Boeing 787 makes greater use of composite materials in its airframe and primary structure than any previous Boeing commercial airplane.

Composite materials are made from two or more constituent materials with significantly different physical or chemical properties that, when combined, produces a material with characteristics different from the individual components. The individual components remain separate and distinct within the finished structure. The new material may be preferred for many reasons: common examples include materials which are stronger, lighter, or less expensive when compared to traditional materials. Researchers have also begun to actively include sensing, actuation, computation, and communication into composites, which are known as Robotic Materials.

The increased use of composites and organic polymer resins in the transportation industry presents significant advantages in terms of increased fuel savings and vehicle durability (i.e. anti-corrosion and increased strength). We have grown dependent on car and air travel despite their harmful air emissions. Nearly 20 lbs of CO2 is created for every gallon of gas that is burned to power an average car. Airplanes also consume large amounts of fuel with efficiencies (~70MPG/seat) that are, on average, less than half that of conventional automobiles (~140 MGP/seat) and much lower than busses and trains (~500MPG/seat). Alternative fuel sources for airplanes are just now starting to be tested, so efficiency gains must come from weight loss and improved design. The EDC is helping innovators in this space such as PolyDrop and Vartega Composite Recycling. Both companies are based in Bellevue, and represent different parts of the value chain for composite materials, a sub-sector of the advanced materials sector. 

Polydrop approached this opportunity by accelerating the adoption of lightweight materials by solving their electrical conductivity issues. This led to istock_38870810_small-300x300.jpggreater fuel efficiency in vehicle suites, particularly air transportation.  PolyDrop started as a collaboration of a team of students and researchers at the University of Washington. That team included degree holders and candidates in Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Biosresource Science, Law and Business Administration. Team members had already gained scientific and business experience with corporations such as Boeing, Alcoa, and Microsoft.  Initially, PolyDrop was just a product, but in 2013, the development team branded both the product and the company as PolyDrop. The objective of the new corporate team was to drive the full-scale production and commercialization of the PolyDrop product to fulfill needs that have long been unmet in the aerospace industry and many others.

vertega.pngVartega Composite Recycling is a recycler of advanced materials – specifically strong and lightweight carbon fiber – used in the aerospace, automotive, wind energy, and sporting goods industries.  They have recently won national recognition by winning their category at the business competition SxSW Eco in Austin, TX.

As the Advanced Materials landscape evolves with innovations strategically integrated into industrial use, the Seattle-King County region’s clean technology stakeholders will continue to collaborate in ways that put us at the forefront of this part of the clean technology sector.

For more information about the Clean Technology cluster, please contact Alison Wise at awise@edc-seaking.org.