Nanoparticles player stirs the pot with room temperature process

WATERVLIET, N.Y. April 12, 2004 — Applied NanoWorks Inc. (ANW) is a small and self-funded shop, with a half dozen people working out of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s business incubator facility here, directly across the Hudson River from the university in upstate New York.

But if the company’s method for producing as many as 64 types of nanoparticles proves as robust and industry-ready as promised, ANW may not be so small for long.

ANW’s founders say the room-temperature process can initially deliver, in commercial volume, 12 types of nanoparticles created in water rather than dry powders. Moreover, they say, it doesn’t require a lot of high-tech equipment.

In fact, while the science is the product of almost a decade of work on crystal growth, test batches of nanoparticles and quantum dots are currently produced with buckets, beakers, kitchen blenders and a big old garbage can.

What will remain very small is the size of the nanoparticles the process can yield, as little as 2 nanometers for zinc oxide — the first material ANW expects to sell in test quantities. The company says that size is 80 percent smaller than currently available nanopowders of zinc oxide.

Eric Burnett, the company’s chief executive, said ANW can form not only some of the world’s smallest nanoparticles, but in a narrow size distributions, between 2 and 6 nanometers for zinc oxide, with most particles around 3 nanometers.

The company targeted the zinc oxide market because it is an established sector that consumes 250 million kilograms every year.

Chief Technical Officer Partha Dutta, who developed the process at RPI, said that producing nanoparticles in water helps keep them from clumping together tightly, as they can in powder form. A product made and transported in water is also “greener” to ship and handle than one delivered in a solvent. Nanoparticles created in water are also less likely to pose the kind of health hazards that are becoming an increasing concern among the public.

Mindy Rittner, director of nanotechnology research at Business Communications Co. Inc., agreed that customers need nanoparticles in a stable dispersion, preferably in a liquid form, “because most if not all of the current applications for nanoparticles — sunscreens, polishing slurries, transparent functional coatings, contrast agents, etc. — utilize nanoparticles in a liquid vehicle.”

The process, which ANW has licensed from RPI, can also be used to make semiconducting quantum dots and particles of pure metals such as silver, copper and gold.

Neil Gordon, a nanotechnology analyst with Sygertech Consulting Group Inc. in Montreal and president of the Canadian NanoBusiness Alliance, noted that the company’s ability to produce so many different kinds of nanoparticles is a double-edged sword.

With more than a hundred companies making nanoparticles, Gordon believes, a new player needs to focus on one or a small family of materials, and be able to deliver value-added services that will solve the challenge of introducing the material into products. “Just being better often isn’t enough,” he concluded, citing the failure of advanced materials in the ’70s and ’80s to fulfill their commercial promise.

Burnett and Dutta said they expect the process, which currently works with kilogram batches, to scale up to dozens of kilos per batch. But in the nanoparticles business “scalability” isn’t just about producing materials by the kilogram, but in a form that can be efficiently shipped, handled and integrated into manufacturing processes.

Because ANW’s materials are made and delivered in water, it’s essential that the fluid be dense with particles. Otherwise, a tanker truck might be required to haul a liquid load that contains only a few dozen kilos of nanoparticles.

The smallness of ANW’s particles, according to Burnett and Dutta, offer benefits such as three to four times the absorption of ultraviolet light than existing particle products. ANW’s zinc oxide nanoparticles, for example, could better protect fiberglass, plastics and paint from breaking down over time from exposure to sunlight.

Smaller particles also have higher surface area, which would enhance their performance in applications such as antibacterial products or adhesives, where they would have increased interaction with bacterial cells or chemicals in glues.

On the funding front, Burnett said he is in the “getting to know you” stage with venture capital firms. But he also noted that corporate customers could become investors as ANW moves from producing test quantities toward the goal of licensing the technology to strategic partners. Indeed, Burnett, who has started two other companies, said that the business development plan for ANW may not be to compete with other nanoparticle makers, but to partner with them.

Company file: Applied NanoWorks Inc.
(last updated April 12, 2004)

Applied NanoWorks Inc.

877 25th St.
Watervliet, N.Y. 12189

The company was founded in July 2003 by technology entrepreneur Eric Burnett and RPI associate professor Partha Dutta with the goal of commercializing two patents for a process of synthesizing uniform, highly tunable nanoparticles suspended in aqueous solutions. Dutta was the 2001 recipient of the National Science Foundations Young Career Award. Applied NanoWorks is housed in the RPI incubator facility.

Industries potentially served

  • Chemicals
  • Communications: Optical Components
  • Consumer Products: Cosmetics and Personal Products
  • Films and Coatings
  • Plastics
  • Semiconductors
  • Employees

    Small tech-related products and services
    The company’s nanoparticles — composed of semiconductor, metals and oxide nanocrystals — are appropriate for slurries, coatings and nanocomposites used in a wide range of applications:

  • PinnacleAF Zinc Oxide (availability announced in April 2004): a nano-colloid (with particles in the 2-6 nanometer range) is now available in various production volumes. This is the first in a line of commercial nanomaterials the company expects to produce using a room-temperature process.
  • PinnacleAF Titanium Dioxide (availability not yet announced): features 5 nanometer primary particle size; potential for use in antibacterial or adhesive applications.
  • Luminescent Nano-Phosphors (availability not yet announced): water-suspended quantum dots that can withstand UV exposure and long-term storage without loss of efficiency.
  • Management

  • Eric Burnett: president and chief executive
  • Partha Dutta: chief technical officer
  • Financials
    Most recent annual revenues: $150,000 – $200,000

    Selected competitors

  • Nanophase Technologies Corp. (Quote, News, Web)
  • Altair Nanotechnologies Inc. (Nasdaq: ALTI, News Web)
  • Nanotechnologies Inc.
  • Degussa Advanced Materials AG
  • Barriers to market
    According to co-founder Burnett, the biggest challenge facing ANW is meeting the needs of a wide range of potential customers and partners, not only with a single material like zinc oxide, but across the full family of planned company products. This will include the challenge of scaling up their current production and shipping processes beyond current kilogram-level capacity.


  • URL:
  • Phone: 518-276-6142
  • Fax: 518-276-3304
  • E-mail: [email protected]
  • — Research by Gretchen McNeely


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