October brings appearances in two significant showcases for founder and former USF engineering faculty member Manoj Ram, while the international stage is not far behind.
TAMPA, Fla. – From mobile electronics to space travel, the need for an energy source that is light, powerful and whose manufacturing doesn’t bring with it the environmental costs that batteries do is the focus of USF startup PolyMaterials App founded by materials scientist Manoj Ram.
The four-year-old startup began to hit its stride in recent years as its unique technologies began to attract attention from federal agencies as large as NASA and the U.S. Air Force, won a series of grants from a highly competitive federal technology support program, and been a regular recipient of Florida High Tech Corridor grants to partner with USF College of Engineering and College of Arts & Sciences faculty and students.
In the days to come, though, PolyMaterials App could experience several big steps forward for the company and its team of eight, which includes many USF alumni and current graduate and undergraduate students.
PolyMaterials App has been accepted to present at the Florida Venture Forum’s 2021 Early-stage Capital Conference in Tampa on Thursday and Friday, Oct. 7-8, and then days later at the Defense 2021 Fall TechConnect Innovation Conference and Expo in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 17-18.
Just last month, Ram was notified that PolyMaterials has been named one of Hello Tomorrow’s Deep Tech Pioneers, being selected from more than 4,000 applications from 115 countries to join Europe’s largest deep tech event in Paris in December. Ram will be notified in a few weeks whether PolyMaterials is selected to pitch potential investors at the exclusive event.
The appearances at these prestigious events follow five new patents issued to Ram, a former College of Engineering associate research professor, just this year.
“We are committed of producing groundbreaking energy storage devices,” Ram said. “Our mission is to commercialize Poly3-Supercapacitors with mindset of where there is a will there is a way!”
PolyMaterials App’s portfolio of technologies includes high energy and high power-based supercapacitors and non-toxic thermo polymers that soften at low temperatures and then can be cured easily, so whatever is being formed is permanent. For example, their polymers can be used to take extremely precise 3D fingerprints that are easily digitized or circuit boards that can be quickly replicated.
A supercapacitor is an electrochemical device which stores and releases electricity like a battery, but instead of storing as chemical energy, it stores in the electric field. Supercapacitors can be charged in a few seconds, rather than the hours it might take for a battery to recharge, and have long operational lifetimes. PolyMaterials App is developing a prototype supercapacitor called Poly3-Scap that is suited for consumer electronics, toys and medical devices. It is also working on a supercapacitor of greater voltages that could be used for hybrid motor vehicles, used in space travel or in the power grid.
At the company’s lab at the USF Research Park, the PolyMaterials team produces prototypes of its energy devices, which are not much bigger than a credit card and weigh no more than a book of matches but can produce power for 15 to 20 years. The proprietary manufacturing process involves equipment that can fit on a desk using materials that are low-cost and commonly available and easily scalable.
As a materials scientist, Ram’s imagination for new applications using inexpensive materials appears to have no boundaries. One projects involves developing cold packaging materials that can sustain their low temperatures much longer and at much less cost than dry ice or other techniques for use in everything from the food industry to transporting human organs for transplant. The polymers he has developed can be used to create a fingerprint identification that’s applied directly on a drivers license or passport that can’t be copied, or to print a circuit board without building an expensive manufacturing plant.
Since 2018, PolyMaterials App has worked closely with USF College of Engineering Associate Professor Arash Takshi and his Bio-Organic Electronics Lab to further develop its existing technology and generate new intellectual property. This collaboration has since expanded to involve Computer Science Associate Professor Srinivas Katkoori and Department of Physics Associate Professor Sagar Pandit and his Computational Soft Matter Lab.
PolyMaterials is the recipient of three federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants, two in 2020 and one this year.
Along with these federal funds, the company has leveraged support from the Florida High Tech Corridor Matching Grants Research Program to fuel this collaborative research. The Corridor program is designed to bring USF faculty and students together with startups in the research and development process as a means of advancing the region’s innovation economy and preparing the highly skilled technology workforce needed to sustain it.
The research initially focused on developing supercapacitor technology that would advance energy storage in hybrid and electric vehicles with an eye on creating a technology that would eliminate the need to import energy storage devices and reduce dependence on rechargeable batteries — which carry steep environmental costs with their harmful chemicals and toxic metals — in the nation’s growing clean energy vehicle sector. Most recently, the team has set out to design a hybrid electrochemical device with properties similar to both batteries and supercapacitors.
For Ram, who in total holds 14 patents where USF is the assignee and who has another 20 national and international patent applications pending, the early success of PolyMaterials App is the groundwork for the next milestone: Attracting investors or a partnership with a major consumer products company. The spotlight at two big venues on PolyMaterials App in October will only help in reaching that goal.
"The collaboration between PolyMaterials APP and researchers at USF is a great example of how the university can support startup companies and contribute in the transformation of research to a technology that can address needs, particularly in the energy market,” Takshi said. “We are proud that we have been beside the PolyMaterials' team from their first days at USF Connect and we hope to continue our collaboration for years."