A unique Michigan-based startup company that is attempting to leverage a proprietary method of what it describes as thermosetting ceramics is on something of a roll. Covaron Advanced Materials (formerly called Kymeira Advanced Materials, as in the above video) announced that it has just secured $300,000 in seed money from a variety of sources, this after winning a $25,000 prize last November in the Accelerate Michigan innovation contest.
The idea of a thermoset ceramics isn’t entirely new. For example, several patents discuss thermosets and ceramic composite materials, and the Navy has a 2004 patent for a method of making boron-carbon-silicon ceramic using thermosetting polymers.
The main person behind the invention of Covaron’s technology is Vincent Alessi, an Oberlin College graduate whom is describes as “a serial inventor in the areas of material chemistry, medical devices, fluid dynamics, and neuroscience.”
Alessi has been able to surround himself with several people of considerable experience in the materials business world, including former Walmart sustainability manager Cameron Smith (featured with Alessi in the video), as well as Dave Hatfield, who helped commercialize thermoplastics technology at Dow Chemical, and Reed Shick, previously the intellectual capital manager for Dow R&D.
I had a chance to speak with Hatfield, the Covaron CEO, who tells me they aren’t anxious to publish research on the papers until a number of intellectual property safeguards are in place. He said Alessi has several patents pending on the technology. He also says Covaron is attempting to develop the technology as a platform to develop a number of unique materials, the first of which has been given the Petraforge brand by the company.
Covaron’s website says Petraforge “has physical properties similar to advanced ceramics yet eliminates the need for heat sintering at 3,600°F.” It goes on to say that Petraforge is “specially formulated to provide the strength, heat conductivity, and abrasion resistance needed to create long lasting patterns and molds for plastics and cast metals.”
When I pressed him for some details about the composition of the Petraforge or other materials, Hatfield deferred to the company’s official description: “[It is a] polymetallic oxide with a nominally amorphous polymeric (glassy) microstructure. … Covaron formulates multiple types of two-component systems, comprising an “A” and a “B” side, similar to thermosetting polymers such as two-part epoxies. … The “A” side is primarily made up of inorganic compounds. Low cost fibers such as glass or carbon can be added to improve strength and alleviate brittleness. The “B” side includes liquid reactants. These components are combined and first undergo a gelation followed by a unique “chemical sintering” reaction, progressing from a liquid phase, to a “green” phase, and then to a low temperature cure process.”
Hatfield said the curing takes place between 160°C and 210°C and can require several hours. The company claims that in regard to certain properties, such as flexural strength, compressive strength-to-weight ratio and thermal stability, its materials are on par with silicon carbide and alumina.
One obvious benefit in regard to traditional advanced ceramic approaches would be considerable manufacturing savings from not having to sinter, but the company also says the pre-cured material is like cake batter and can be molded into any shape. Hatfield says post-cured material is easily machined and not nearly as brittle as some ceramics.
The company also claims, “more than 70 percent of the raw materials used in Covaron products can come from industrial waste sources.”
Hatfield tells me that Covaron will use the $300,000 seed funding to further the characterization of the materials, perfecting the mold and pattern making application techniques (for use in plastic injection molding, metal sand casting, etc.) and laying the groundwork for an “A” round of venture capital infusion of around $2.5-$5 million targeted for the end of 2013 or early 2014.
Current investors include Mercury Fund in Houston, Texas; First Step Fund in Detroit, Michigan; Huron River Ventures in Ann Arbor, Mich. and Two Seven Ventures in Denver, Colo. According to a story in Crain’s Detroit Business, Hatfield asked one of the leaders of Two Seven Ventures, Dave Cornelius, to do some initial investigation of Alessi’s technology based on Cornelius’ previous stint as director of new ventures for Dow Corning.
Hatfield also mentions the company, at some future point, hopes to develop products for the oil and gas industry, such as proppants for fracking, and pipes and fittings. Could Covaron be another MesoCoat in the making? Stay tuned.