New Energy-Saving Technology Wins NSF Grant

Oregon BEST helped startup secure grant after playing key role in development of furnace monitoring technology that is helping U.S. specialty metals industry reduce the $800 million lost annually through material waste and electrical inefficiencies

PORTLAND, Ore. – Ampere Scientific, an Oregon startup with a technology that could save the $25 billion U.S. specialty metals industry 25 percent in overall electricity usage, has been awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to take its technology to the next level.

The technology also reduces waste and improves safety during production of large specialty metals ingots in 20-foot-tall Vacuum Arc Remelting (VAR) furnaces. The VAR process, which has remained relatively unchanged since its invention in the 1940s and 50s, wastes more than 40 percent of the electrical power input and results in yield loss as high as eight percent.

Each VAR furnace costs approximately $25 million to build and generates an electric arc, or plasma column, that melts a consumable electrode, burning off impurities and creating a large ingot (pictured, top, with Ampere Scientific staff) of various specialty metals that are used in everything from hip replacements to aerospace parts (titanium turbine fins, pictured below).

titanium turbine bladesUntil recently, however, it has been impossible to "see" the arc used for melting, so fine control of the process was not an option, resulting in significant electrical energy loss, waste buildup on the ingot surface and significant safety issues in VAR furnaces.

Last year, funding from Oregon BEST helped KW Associates (now dba Ampere Scientific) team with researchers at Oregon State University to validate the startup's Arc Position Sensing (APS) technology that enables manufacturers to visualize the arc used for melting and make gross adjustments.

The $225,000 SBIR grant will now help the company advance its new VARmetricTM technology, based on it APS technology, and develop fine control of the arc using tailored magnetic fields.

"Our first customer, ATI Specialty Alloys and Components (located in Millersburg, Ore.), has been field testing the APS technology and is looking forward to working with us as we develop the fine control system," said Paul King, CEO of Ampere Scientific.

The startup has grown from two employees a year ago to five and has plans to hire an additional electrical engineer in the coming few months.

ingot produced in VAR furnace"Leon Wolf from the Oregon BEST team played a critical role in helping us win this SBIR grant," King said. "This will help us advance our technology, which could save 40 to 50 percent of the energy currently lost in the use of these furnaces, while improving ingot quality, and reducing much of the $800 million in lost revenues annually through material waste and associated electrical inefficiencies."

Oregon BEST operates the SBIR/STTR Support Center, which is directed by Wolf, as part of its mission to help cleantech startups located in Oregon navigate the early stages of research and development that leads to commercialization of new clean technologies like Ampere Scientific's

"It's great to see that our early investment in Ampere Scientific, coupled with our ongoing business support through our SBIR/STTR Support Center, has helped attract follow-on funding like this SBIR Phase I grant," said Johanna Brickman, Director of Collaborative Innovation at Oregon BEST. "We're pleased that this type of private-public teamwork is helping a wide range of cleantech companies in Oregon succeed."

Barry Johnson, Director of the NSF’s Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships, said, “The National Science Foundation supports small businesses with the most innovative, cutting-edge ideas that have the potential to become great commercial successes and make huge societal impacts. We hope that this seed funding will spark solutions to some of the most important challenges of our time across all areas of science and technology.”

Once a small business is awarded a Phase I SBIR/STTR grant (up to $225,000), it becomes eligible to apply for a Phase II grant (up to $750,000), and small businesses with Phase II grants are eligible to receive up to $500,000 in additional matching funds with qualifying third-party investment or sales.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gregg Kleiner, 541-740-9654
SOURCES: Johanna Brickman, Oregon BEST, 503-313-4507; Paul King, Ampere Scientific, 503-939-3571

About Oregon BEST
Oregon BEST funds and assists cleantech startups, bringing together Oregon’s significant R&D strengths to support entrepreneurs in the creation of new products and services. As the nexus for clean technology innovation, Oregon BEST builds capability, convenes collaborations and accelerates solutions to environmental challenges that deliver prosperity in all corners of Oregon. More than 250 Oregon BEST Member Researchers and a network of nine Oregon BEST Labs at four partner universities (Oregon State University, Oregon Tech, Portland State University, and University of Oregon) offer research expertise and lab equipment to industry. Oregon BEST competitively awards Early-Stage Investments to collaborations between startup companies and Oregon BEST Member Faculty at partner universities. More than 40 Oregon BEST Companies are in various stages of commercialization.

About Ampere Scientific
KW Associates, dba Ampere Scientific, is the developer of the VARmetricTM technology based on the patented, award-winning Arc Position Sensing (APS) technology originally invented at a U.S Dept. of Energy national laboratory on behalf of and with funding provided by the Specialty Metals Processing Consortium, an industry consortium representing the manufacturing of high value metals (Ti, Ni, Nb etc). VARmetricTM is revolutionizing the way titanium and other alloys of high value are manufactured, providing the unprecedented ability to identify operating conditions leading to identification of safety critical operations and yield loss and making it possible to decrease these losses by 50 percent or more, saving the industry hundreds of millions of dollars per year. VARmetricTM  is dubbed “the MRI of industrial processes."