OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

business and the economy

Electronics advance moves closer to a world beyond silicon

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University have made a significant advance in the function of metal-insulator-metal, or MIM diodes, a technology premised on the assumption that the speed of electrons moving through silicon is simply too slow.

For the extraordinary speed envisioned in some future electronics applications, these innovative diodes solve problems that would not be possible with silicon-based materials as a limiting factor.

The new diodes consist of a “sandwich” of two metals, with two insulators in between, to form “MIIM” devices. This allows an electron not so much to move through materials as to tunnel through insulators and appear almost instantaneously on the other side. It’s a fundamentally different approach to electronics.

The newest findings, published in Applied Physics Letters, have shown that the addition of a second insulator can enable “step tunneling,” a situation in which an electron may tunnel through only one of the insulators instead of both. This in turn allows precise control of diode asymmetry, non-linearity, and rectification at lower voltages.

“This approach enables us to enhance device operation by creating an additional asymmetry in the tunnel barrier,” said John F. Conley, Jr., a professor in the OSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “It gives us another way to engineer quantum mechanical tunneling and moves us closer to the real applications that should be possible with this technology.”

OSU scientists and engineers, who only three years ago announced the creation of the first successful, high-performance MIM diode, are international leaders in this developing field. Conventional electronics based on silicon materials are fast and inexpensive, but are reaching the top speeds possible using those materials. Alternatives are being sought.

More sophisticated microelectronic products could be possible with the MIIM diodes – not only improved liquid crystal displays, cell phones and TVs, but such things as extremely high-speed computers that don’t depend on transistors, or “energy harvesting” of infrared solar energy, a way to produce energy from the Earth as it cools during the night.

MIIM diodes could be produced on a huge scale at low cost, from inexpensive and environmentally benign materials. New companies, industries and high-tech jobs may ultimately emerge from advances in this field, OSU researchers say.

The work by Conley and OSU doctoral student Nasir Alimardani has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute.

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John Conley, 541-737-9874

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MIIM diode

MIIM diode

Pass the salt: Common condiment could enable new high-tech industry

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Chemists at Oregon State University have identified a compound that could significantly reduce the cost and potentially enable the mass commercial production of silicon nanostructures – materials that have huge potential in everything from electronics to biomedicine and energy storage.

This extraordinary compound is called table salt.

Simple sodium chloride, most frequently found in a salt shaker, has the ability to solve a key problem in the production of silicon nanostructures, researchers just announced in Scientific Reports, a professional journal.

By melting and absorbing heat at a critical moment during a “magnesiothermic reaction,” the salt prevents the collapse of the valuable nanostructures that researchers are trying to create. The molten salt can then be washed away by dissolving it in water, and it can be recycled and used again.

The concept, surprising in its simplicity, should open the door to wider use of these remarkable materials that have stimulated scientific research all over the world.

“This could be what it takes to open up an important new industry,” said David Xiulei Ji, an assistant professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Science. “There are methods now to create silicon nanostructures, but they are very costly and can only produce tiny amounts.

“The use of salt as a heat scavenger in this process should allow the production of high-quality silicon nanostructures in large quantities at low cost,” he said. “If we can get the cost low enough many new applications may emerge.”

Silicon, the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, has already created a revolution in electronics. But silicon nanostructures, which are complex structures much smaller than a speck of dust, have potential that goes far beyond the element itself.

Uses are envisioned in photonics, biological imaging, sensors, drug delivery, thermoelectric materials that can convert heat into electricity, and energy storage.

Batteries are one of the most obvious and possibly first applications that may emerge from this field, Ji said. It should be possible with silicon nanostructures to create batteries – for anything from a cell phone to an electric car – that last nearly twice as long before they need recharging.

Existing technologies to make silicon nanostructures are costly, and simpler technologies in the past would not work because they required such high temperatures. Ji developed a methodology that mixed sodium chloride and magnesium with diatomaceous earth, a cheap and abundant form of silicon.

When the temperature reached 801 degrees centigrade, the salt melted and absorbed heat in the process. This basic chemical concept – a solid melting into a liquid absorbs heat – kept the nanostructure from collapsing.

The sodium chloride did not contaminate or otherwise affect the reaction, researchers said. Scaling reactions such as this up to larger commercial levels should be feasible, they said.

The study also created, for the first time with this process, nanoporous composite materials of silicon and germanium. These could have wide applications in semiconductors, thermoelectric materials and electrochemical energy devices.

Funding for the research was provided by OSU. Six other researchers from the Department of Chemistry and the OSU Department of Chemical Engineering also collaborated on the work.

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David Xiulei Ji, 541-737-6798

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Silicon nanostructure

Silicon nanostructures


Table salt

Table salt

New companies, research ideas chosen to join OSU Venture Accelerator

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Administrators of the Venture Accelerator at Oregon State University have chosen the first 12 research concepts or spinoff companies to participate in the program, which is designed to spur the creation of new companies from university-based research.

The Venture Accelerator is one component of the Oregon State University Advantage, an educational, research and commercialization initiative begun earlier this year. Officials say it should increase industry investment in OSU research by 50 percent and lead to the creation of 20 new businesses within five years.

With the announcement of its first participants, some of those companies may already be taking shape.

In the future this could lead to innovative types of automobiles, improved heating systems, more efficient solar cells, electricity produced from wastewater, an enhanced online shopping experience or – in a pinch – a safe and efficient caesarian delivery of a baby in small, rural hospitals.

“These concepts and companies are emerging from OSU or the Corvallis community, and we feel good about the commercial potential of all of them,” said John Turner, co-director of the Venture Accelerator Program.

“We think the Venture Accelerator will contribute at all stages of their commercial development and really speed the companies toward success,” Turner said. “It’s also worth noting that we’ve chosen some technologies that are incremental advances in a field, and others may represent breakthroughs of global importance. There’s a place for both in what we’re trying to do in job creation and economic advancement.”

The Venture Accelerator at OSU is designed to identify innovation or research findings that might form the basis for profitable companies, and then streamline their development with the legal, marketing, financial and mentoring needs that turn good ideas into real-world businesses. The approach can be customized to each client’s needs and also allows them to tap into the resource of OSU students who can assist in research and business development.

The new companies and innovations include:

  • Waste2Watergy – A Corvallis startup company to commercialize OSU research on the production of electricity from wastewater, while also treating the wastewater.
  • Valliscor, LLC –Valliscor is a chemical manufacturing company that provides innovative solutions to access compounds for the pharmaceutical, agricultural, polymer and electronics industries.
  • MOVE – Referring to “methane opportunities for vehicle energy,” this company is being developed from research at OSU-Cascades to allow a car that runs on methane to compress its own fuel and be re-fueled from a homeowner’s natural gas supply.
  • Macromolecular structure characterization – This is based on a patent of a new way to solve protein structures that could transform biological research.
  • Heating systems – Devices using microchannel arrays to heat air or water that are small or portable could offer much higher efficiency for residential or other uses.
  • Beet – A solar cell device will be developed based on patented absorber material that allows high conversion efficiency.
  • Multicopter Northwest – This company will develop and sell small helicopter and photographic systems to produce photos or video at an altitude up to 400 feet.
  • PlayPulse – The physiological responses of video game users will be measured to help producers understand user behavior.
  • InforeMed – The company will create serious games for health care education.
  • BuyBott – This online website will simplify shopping and enhance social interaction.
  • Bauer Labs LLC – Technology from the company includes a facilitator for emergency caesarean delivery, a special challenge in rural hospitals.
  • FanTogether – Sports fans will stay connected to their favorite teams or individuals.

The OSU Venture Accelerator is a component of the South Willamette Valley Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network, or RAIN, which was made possible by recent legislative approval and funding of $3.75 million.

The University of Oregon and OSU, along with the cities of Eugene, Springfield, Albany and Corvallis, are all collaborating in this broad initiative that taps into the research and educational expertise of academia and aggressively moves it toward private economic growth.

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John Turner, 541-737-9219

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Electricity from sewage

Electricity from wastewater

Study finds disincentives to energy efficiency can be fixed

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study finds that utilities aren't rewarded for adopting energy efficiency programs, and that reforms are needed to make energy efficiency as attractive as renewables.

The article, just published in the current issue of Environmental Law, examines key differences between energy efficiency projects and renewable resources. Author Inara Scott, an assistant professor at Oregon State University, outlines ways to increase the amount of energy utilities save each year through efficiency programs.

“Right now, the system actually discourages utilities from building programs to increase efficiency,” she said. “We need to start addressing efficiency as we do renewable energy – by looking at it systemically and removing the barriers.”

Scott spent a decade as a lawyer specializing in energy and regulatory law. Her research in the College of Business centers on the transformation of utility systems, clean energy, energy efficiency, and utility regulation.

Her study makes four key recommendations: redesigning rate structures, setting hard targets, streamlining cost-effective tests and addressing market barriers.

Cost-recovery systems for many investor-owned utilities in the United States are based on an old rate structure model – the more energy that is produced, the higher return for shareholders. “You don’t want to penalize utilities for selling less energy,” Scott said.

Instead, she said, states can use ratemaking mechanisms to decouple the link between utility sales and revenues and establish performance incentives for the adoption of efficiency programs.

“Decoupling mechanisms may add complexity to utility rate structures, but they are essential to eliminating environmentally nonsensical ratemaking models that reward utilities for higher sales and penalize them for efficiency.”

Setting hard targets is doable, she said. The state of Oregon has set a goal for 25 percent of its energy to be consumed through renewables by 2025. Scott said other states also could set aspirational goals for energy efficiency.

“If states are committed to reducing the strain on the electric grid, diversifying utility resource portfolios, reducing dependence on foreign markets, and reducing carbon emissions through the adoption of renewable resources, they should be just as willing to do so through the adoption of energy efficiency as they are through the purchase of renewable resources.”

Streamlining cost-effectiveness tests will be difficult, Scott said, because a simple, accurate way to measure energy efficiency does not exist. “The difficulty is that you’re trying to measure energy you didn’t use. So really, you’re measuring something that doesn’t exist.”

Many of the tests that do exist are so complicated that they may discourage utilities from adopting energy efficiency. Issues with cost-effectiveness testing will be difficult to fully remedy, Scott said, but these steps —conducting assessments at a programmatic level, streamlining the precision of tests, and considering the development of national standards — will move the bar forward.

Market barriers, Scott said, can be addressed through incentives. Some states, including Colorado and Michigan, have increased the size of incentives for consumers to take on energy efficiency programs (including, in some cases, reimbursing consumers 100 percent of their investment) and finding ways to make incentives more attractive to customers through advertising and education.

“There needs to be better marketing around efficiency,” Scott said. “We need to make increasing energy efficiency as attractive as opting for ‘green’ or ‘salmon-friendly’ renewables.”

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Inara Scott, 541-737-4102

CEO Summit to be held May 7 in Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. – Six Oregon leaders in business, technology and education will gather to discuss how to turn innovations into companies and jobs at the fourth annual CEO Summit, held Tuesday, May 7, at the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront.

Presented by Oregon State University Advantage and the OSU College of Business, the event — “Taking Innovation to Market: Cultivating Ideas and Community” — begins at 7:30 a.m. with a keynote address by Dennis E. Hruby, chief scientific officer and vice president of SIGA Technologies Inc.

Following the keynote, a panel featuring entrepreneurs, industry leaders and Oregon State Venture Accelerator co-directors will discuss industry forming partnerships with universities to turn ideas into profitable companies, create jobs and have an impact on Oregon’s economy.

Panelists include:

  • Ryan Kirkpatrick, chief executive officer, Shwood, Ltd.
  • Mark Lieberman, chief startup officer and co-director, Office of Commercialization and Development and Oregon State Venture Accelerator
  • John Turner, co-director, Oregon State Venture Accelerator
  • Tim Weber, vice president and general manager, Printing Technology Development Operation, Hewlett-Packard

Mary Coucher, vice president of IP engineering, operations and geography licensing for IBM Corporation, will serve as the moderator for the discussion.

The Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront is located at 1401 S.W. Naito Parkway. For more information and to register, go to http://business.oregonstate.edu/CEOSummit

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Jenn Casey, 541-737-0695

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Dennis Hruby

Lieberman to help guide OSU Venture Accelerator

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Mark Lieberman, an expert in business commercialization, entrepreneurship and international finance, has been named as the new chief startup officer and co-director of the OSU Venture Accelerator, an initiative to help move university research to commercial success.

The Venture Accelerator and a related effort, the Industry Partnering Program, are two key parts of the Oregon State University Advantage, a major new program to boost the university’s impact on job creation and economic progress in Oregon and the nation. It began this spring.

Lieberman most recently has been executive director of the Business Technology Center of Los Angeles County, and was named one of the 50 “Most Innovative Men for 2012” by THE Magazine. He has taught entrepreneurship programs at various colleges, consulted with several governments, worked in international finance, and served on President Obama’s “Rank Review Committee” for 2010.

“Mark brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in launching new enterprises and in mentoring management teams,” said Ron Adams, executive associate vice president for research at OSU. “His leadership as chief startup officer will help ensure OSU’s success in fostering job creation and in developing Oregon’s future entrepreneurial talent.”

The Venture Accelerator is designed to identify innovation or research findings that might form the basis for profitable companies. It will aid their development with legal, marketing, financial and mentoring assistance to help turn good ideas into real-world businesses.

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Ron Adams, 541-737-7722

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Mark Lieberman

Mark Lieberman

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About Oregon State University:  As one of only two universities in the nation designated as a land, sea, space and sun grant, Oregon State serves Oregon and the world by working on today’s most pressing issues. Our more than 31,000 students come from across the globe, and our programs operate in every Oregon county. Oregon State receives more research funding than all of the state’s comprehensive public universities combined. At our campuses in Corvallis, Bend and Newport, and through our award-winning Ecampus, we excel at shaping today’s students into tomorrow’s leaders.