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   Nanotechnology for Minnesota's Competitiveness
 Issue # 3
April 2009

Phoenix Solutions' Plasma Technology Enables Full-Scale Production of Nanoparticles

non transfer torchBy Benjamin Tramm

There is nothing small about Phoenix Solutions Company's approach to nanoparticle generation. As the world's largest supplier of commercial thermal plasma systems, PSC's plasma heating technology enables their customers to transition from pilot-scale laboratory production to full-scale production of nanometric particles. Using their modular plasma torch technology, Phoenix Solutions has partnered with the United States Army to develop systems capable of manufacturing massive quantities of nanoparticles. 
Their goal? To manufacture ten tons of nanometric particles-per day!
Phoenix Solutions is a privately held family business having its headquarters in Crystal, MN--less than ten miles northwest of downtown Minneapolis. The company was founded in 1952 under the name FluiDyne Engineering Corporation, with a focus on aerospace technology, and particularly wind tunnels. Wind tunnel testing often required heat, and FluiDyne developed expertise in generating that heat using electric arc plasma.
In 1993, FluiDyne sold their wind tunnel business, but maintained their heating system technologies, especially plasma. The company reformed as Phoenix Solutions Company. In 2000, PSC bought Plasma Energy Corporation and has grown to be the largest supplier of plasma technology in the world.
PSC has a test facility located in Hutchinson, MN. The test facility gives PSC the ability to install, evaluate and prove each system in operating conditions prior to shipment-reducing the time to startup and ensuring that customers meet their often demanding operation deadlines. The Hutchinson test facility is also equipped to evaluate nanoparticle generation and gasification projects.

arc modes The core of PSC's business is their plasma arc torches. The torches are currently available in three arc modes and five power ranges. The arc modes, illustrated in the drawing, include transferred, non-transferred, or a convertible mode that is capable of switching between transferred and non-transferred operation. Some torches are capable of generating temperatures as high as 16,000 K (about 28,340 F).

A wide variety of nanoparticles can be manufactured by combining PSC's plasma torches with proper post-plasma reactors. For example, the plasma torches can be used to vaporize raw stock. Once vaporized, post-plasma processing can be used to recast the material into the desired form. Rapid quenching is often used to freeze the chemistry when it is in the desired state. Additional chemical processing can be included as needed.
 transfer torch
PSC has partnered with the U.S. Army to develop a large-scale nanoparticle demonstrator capable of producing up to ten tons of nanoparticles per day. To do so, PSC is developing modular systems that will have the flexibility to generate a wide range of materials. The idea is to design a module, including a plasma torch and reactor, that generates as great of quantities of nanoparticles as possible. Once completed, any number of modules can then be stacked together to generate the full-scale quantities of nanoparticles that are required for any particular customer. When the customer is the U.S. Army, those quantities may be as much as ten tons per day, or more. Such nanoparticles can be used in a wide range of military applications, such as rocket fuels, munitions, and materials for vehicular and personnel armor.
PSC's torches are not only used for nanoparticle generation. In fact, approximately 80% of PSC's technology is currently sold to Japan where it is used for waste remediation, power production, and metallurgical refinement. Waste processing systems have the ability to handle diverse waste streams including incinerator ash, municipal solid waste, biomedical and low/intermediate level nuclear waste. The systems provide drastic reductions in both volume and toxicity. The byproduct of plasma-processed inorganic waste streams is a chemically inert glassy slag, which can be recycled into a number of useful materials including roadbeds, architectural tile, and even artwork. 
Their power production technology involves the use of feedstocks such as municipal solid waste, corn stover and other biomass. Plasma torches are used to convert the feedstock into a synthetic fuel that can then be used to produce electricity. PSC's technology offers a vision of the future where waste is channeled not to landfills but to power plants.
Last summer, PSC began work on a project under a contract with the Minnesota Department of Commerce. The project is intended to show that the cost of producing synthetic gas from biomass feedstocks is competitive with the cost of producing commercial natural gas. The project is part of Governor Pawlenty's Next Generation Energy Initiative and is expected to be completed later this summer. 
To learn more about Phoenix Solutions Company, call (763) 544-2721 or visit

Nano Tech 2009: 
Interview with Phoenix Solutions' Sr. VP & CTO

Nano Tech 2009By Shweta Sharma
MN Nano interviewed Gary J. Hanus, Sr. VP & CTO of Phoenix Solutions Co. (Minneapolis MN) about his impressions from the recent Nano Tech 2009. The conference was held in Japan from Feb 18 to 20 with an impressive 47,000 attendees. Close to 600 companies and organizations representing 21 different countries were present at the exhibition.
MN Nano: Can you comment on any one technology that left a lasting impression?
CNT-FED TECO Nanotech Gary: The Taiwanese pavilion with their CNT-FED (Carbon Nanotubes Field Emission Displays) by TECO Nanotech Co. was very impressive. The Taiwanese pavilion was even presented the "Special Award" to commend their showcase of diverse products that apply nanotechnology.

MN Nano: What was your perception on the community's general attitude towards establishing safety regulations for the consumer market?
Gary: That is a very important question you bring up. It was a bit disappointing to see such little coverage in this area. The attendance from people setting the laws was also minimal.
MN Nano: With the current economic slump and slowed down VC activity, what can you say about the financial growing pains of the nanotech startups?
Gary: There is a lot of money out there, the funds have not dried up, they are just sitting there. It's a matter of the public psyche pulling itself out of this emotional international crisis. I am not worried about funding.
MN Nano: Among the various technical sessions, which industry do you think will be the forerunner in providing the commercialization platform for nanotech?
Gary: CNT was a large thrust, e.g. CNT transistors, CNT wires, CNT graphene composites. All these examples make the concept of carbon based semiconductors a soon-to-become reality. Green technology, a key buzz word in the press media, is definitely gaining momentum. Topics covered ranged from filter systems, soil remediation, carbon-di-oxide reduction to air and water pollution. Green nanotechnology was also the theme of the Nano Tech 2009.

MN Nano: Commenting on global nanotech maturity, will Europe & Asia lead the US?
Gary: The US most likely has rose-colored glasses on if we are under the impression that we are leading the change. Germany dwarfs all the global players in their per capita spending towards R&D in the nanotechnology sector. I was attending to make those strategic connections in the international nanometrics community, since 75% of our business is export and most of it is to Japan. From a total of approximately 500 companies in the nanometrics spectrum only 5 were US companies.


Cima NanoTech's Commercially Viable SANTE Product Line

SANTE filmBy Marianne Timm
The Self Aligning Nano Technology for Electronics or SANTE
product line is the first major commercial product line of Cima NanoTech (Cima). Cima is a start-up company headquartered in Saint Paul, Minnesota with a subsidiary in Israel. The company has pursued strategic partnerships to speed up commercialization and draw on high quality manufacturing and supply chain experience. Those partnerships include a joint venture with Toda Kogyo of Japan, a prominent nanoparticle manufacturer and an initiative with Toray Industries of Japan, a chemical manufacturer. 

The SANTE product line is a line of transparent conductive coatings and films that allow for high light transmittance and low resistivity. Many commercial electronics require transparent conductors to function, such as solar cells and touch-screens. However, currently-available transparent conductors fail to meet industry needs in the areas of transparency, conductivity, flexibility, and cost.

In contrast, SANTE coatings of comparable transparency are around 3 to 10 times more conductive, more flexible, greener to produce, and less expensive than currently utilized transparent conductors. For instance, a leading competitive technology, indium tin oxide requires the use of indium - an expensive and very limited resource. Cima has chosen silver nanoparticles as the base material for SANTE coatings. Silver was chosen because it is highly conductive, readily available, relatively inexpensive, and not prone to oxidation in air. SANTE coatings, however, have applicability beyond silver and may be extended to different markets with other materials. Accordingly, SANTE coatings offer a superior alternative to indium tin oxide coatings.
SANTE coatings are formed by combining water, oil, emulsifier, and silver nanoparticles to create a wet emulsion, which is quickly and easily spread to coat desired materials. The silver nanoparticles self align around water droplets. Under controlled drying conditions, as the two phases (water and oil) of the emulsion dry, water droplets coalesce and grow in a controlled fashion while the silver nanoparticles remain suspended at the edges of the water droplets. After the oil and water dry, only a matrix of silver particles is left. The spaces, left by the evaporated water and oil, provide high light transmission. Thus, a controlled geometry of a microscopic metal mesh can be generated using this self assembly process. The nanoparticles are then at least partially melted at low temperatures to densify the matrix and increase conductivity.     

The unique geometry allow for several benefits. The matrix or mesh structure provides a flexibility that is not found in transparent conductive oxides, which allows curved surfaces to be coated with SANTE coatings. Additionally, conventional transparent conductive oxides are prone to have color in their absorbance and may require color compensation. The open pores of the SANTE coating matrix are spectrally neutral and do not require color compensation. Likewise, transparency is maintained all the way through to the IR regime, allowing some products, such as solar cells, to reap possible benefits from a greater spectral transmission. 

Nanoparticles and their unique properties are essential to this technology because silver macroparticles cannot move around in the droplets of water to form a matrix, cannot melt at low temperatures, and are too large to form a transparent mesh. Therefore, this technology is only possible by utilizing the unique properties found on the nano scale.

One of the reasons the World Economic Forum recognized Cima as a top 10 Greentech company is because the SANTE product line is produced through an additive process with minimal silver waste and improves photovoltaic solar cell designs. In contrast, the process for forming previous coatings, such as lithographically patterned metal meshes, produces high volumes of heavy metal and acidic or alkaline toxic waste.  

SANTE technology can be utilized in broad electrical applications. To date, the coatings have been applied to touch-screens, curved surfaces, solar cells, plasmas televisions, electroluminescent lamps, electromagnetic interference filters, transparent heaters, and E-paper. Cima is further researching applications for fuel cells, batteries, capacitors, filters, OLEDs, and window films. Cima hypothesizes that several other applications exist for SANTE coatings and is exploring these avenues vigorously.          

The quick and easy production, low cost of materials, lack of waste, lack of color, flexibility, and low resistance of SANTE technology makes it an exciting new product in the field of nanotechnology.

To learn more about Cima NanoTech, Inc., call (651) 646-6266 or visit

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In this Issue
-- Phoenix Solutions
-- Nano Tech 2009
-- Cima NanoTech

Upcoming Events

Seminars at the Center for Nanostructure Applications

Check out the CNA calendar for upcoming seminar topics and dates.
University of Minnesota

NSTI Nanotech 2009
May 3-7, 2009
Now in its 12th year, this conference is expected to attract more than 5,000 Nano, Micro and Bio technology executives, to promote advanced research and best practices, and bring Nanotechnology from the laboratory to the marketplace.
Houston, TX

Euro Nano Forum 09
June 2-5
The topic of the EuroNanoForum 2009 is "Nanotechnology for a Sustainable Economy".
Prague, Czech Republic

Minnesota Partnership announces funds for
nanotechnology research
Posted March 6, 2009
(Nanowerk News)
The Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics is awarding nearly $5.4 million in state-funded research support to six research teams
Read more

Nanotechnology the topic of Global Technology Leaders roundtable
Posted Feb 1, 2009
(Nanowerk News)
Executives from five weapons and technology companies, some with connections to the Tampa Bay area, discussed the future of nanotechnology
Listen to the radio show
Read more

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Enewsletter Work Group

Shweta Sharma
(MN Nano ENewsletter Chair)
Sr. MEMS Engineer
Goodrich Corporation 
Benjamin Tramm
Intellectual Property Attorney
Merchant & Gould

Eric Hockert
Technology Marketing Manager
University of Minnesota

Marianne TImm
Intellectual Property Attorney
Merchant & Gould

Matthew Hollister
Technical Advisor 
Merchant & Gould

Marlene Abels
MN Nano Account Executive
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