4:25pm

Thu March 17, 2011
Tech

Combating rising fuel costs? There's a nanoparticle for that

When you think "nanotechnology," chances are the diesel engine doesn't immediately pop to mind. But that old mechanical stalwart is exactly where a Rochester company is making its first big nanotech push.

After two-and-a-half years of research and development, Cerion Energy is beginning to sell its diesel additive to marine fleets, rail lines and mining companies. The company's oxygen-breathing nanoparticle makes diesel burn more efficiently, and has been shown to cut soot and greenhouse gas emissions - all while reducing fuel costs by about 10 percent.

And as oil prices continue to skyrocket, Cerion's arrival on the market couldn't come at a better time.

"It's the ability to speed up a reaction. That's all," says Ken Reed, Cerion's co-founder and Chief Technical Officer. "You don’t change the endpoint, you just get there quicker, cheaper."

Cerion is calling the catalyst GO2 ("go-to," get it?), and the company is bullish on its prospects. After about six months of sales, they have around 10 customers. But execs say 20 to 30 more are expected to come on board in the next quarter.

Cerion executives say the company could easily see $100 million in sales over the next year-and-a-half.

"We're one of the lost tribes of Kodak"

Cerion was founded in 2007, but has long roots in the Rochester area. Reed, an RIT grad, is one of about a dozen former Kodak scientists who now work at Cerion. Reed says it was at Kodak, in the company's research labs, where he was first introduced to the nanoscale technology on which Cerion's flagship catalyst is based.

After leaving the photo giant in 2005, Reed teamed up with business partner Mick Stadler to pursue the technology on their own. Armed with venture capital - including millions from Constellation Brands Chairman Richard Sands, according to the Rochester Business Journal - Cerion went to work.

The company uses tiny clusters of cerium dioxide atoms* that are enormously reactive at high temperatures. The end product is a particle so small that 30,000 of them fit across the width of a human hair. One gallon of GO2 treats 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

As Cerion ramps up full scale commercialization, the company is returning to its roots with a key partnership: GO2 is made in Building 35 of Kodak's Eastman Business Park.

Tiny product, big impact

"You're talking about some of the smallest things you can possibly contemplate," says co-founder Reed."[Things] we can [barely] see with a powerful electron microscope, addressing some of the largest societal problems that we have: energy conservation. I find that kind of deeply ironic, that's all."

Reed says the company hopes to one day modify the nanoparticle so that the catalyst will work in engines that run on gasoline.

But first it'll have to win approval for on-road use in diesel-burning big rig trucks. That's something Cerion says it's currently working toward.

 

*(Cerium dioxide is derived from the same so-called "rare earth element" that optics firms use to grind lenses. Sen. Chuck Schumer was in Rochester not long ago to rail against China's tightening grip on the global supply of those metals.)