TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A University of Alabama business start-up team, composed of students focusing on a less costly replacement for the precious metal platinum, will compete against other entrepreneurs in the first round of the 2015 Alabama Launchpad Competition Jan. 23.
The student team, Conductive Chemistry, will pitch its product – a new material with many of the electrical properties of platinum at less than half the cost – to judges in the competition’s first round.
The free event, which begins at 9 a.m. and is open to the public, will be held at Evonik Industries, 750 Lakeshore Parkway, Birmingham.
The UA students, led in the competition by Chris Bailey, a junior mechanical engineering major from Scott Depot, West Virginia, are touting technology invented by other University of Alabama researchers.
Other members of the student team are Natalie Anderson, a senior chemical engineering major from Kingwood, Texas, and Andrew Talbert, a junior focusing on computer science and mathematics, from Orange City, Florida. Bailey and Talbert are also both enrolled in the S.T.E.M. Path to the MBA program, which allows them to concurrently pursue an MBA alongside their bachelor degrees in engineering.
Twenty early-stage companies submitted applications for the Launchpad competition, and judges selected 11 teams, including the UA students’ start-up, to move forward in the competition.
The teams are in the “pre-seed” phase, according to the competition’s organizer, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. They are competing for a share of up to $250,000 in award money. The competition is geared to promote, reward and increase the pipeline of high-growth, innovative ventures that have the potential to create and keep jobs in Alabama, according to an EDPA news release.
Platinum, which has a high resistance to corrosion and allows the transmission of electric current, is used in many products, including fuel cells, electrodes and solar cells.
However, its supply is limited, and its cost rose from $396 an ounce in 1997 to $1,516 an ounce by 2013, team members said.
Conductive Chemistry, which is mentored by UA’s Office for Technology Transfer, will pitch a technology invented by Zhichao Shan and Archana Panikar, UA chemistry graduate students; Dr. Shanlin Pan, a UA associate professor of chemistry; and Dr. Arunava Gupta, a UA professor of chemistry and chemical and biological engineering and associate director in UA’s Center for Materials for Information Technology.
This technology can produce a material with many properties similar to platinum but at half the cost. The new material, known as NanoCOT, is composed of carbon, oxygen and titanium. In addition to using these abundant elements, the new material is nanostructured, which allows for customization and increased surface area.
The Office for Technology Transfer works with innovators to assist in bringing technologies created at the University to the commercial marketplace for public benefit.
More than a dozen start-up companies receive early assistance and mentoring through the Office for Technology Transfer and the Alabama Innovation and Mentoring of Entrepreneurs center within the UA Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development.
The Alabama Launchpad Competition, started as a pilot project in 2006, is financed by business, the state of Alabama and seven universities. Since its inception, more than $1.5 million has been awarded to 35 companies through the competition, according to the EDPA.