Nanotechnology Inspired Grand Challenge 06.19.2015
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Nanotechnology Inspired Grand Challenge 06.19.2015
Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge
for the Next Decade
“Fossil Fuel Efficiency Through Nano-Chemicals”
A white paper submission to the Office of the President of the United States,
Science and Technology Policy Office
Barry A. Cothran
Telephone: (937) 216-8877
24 June 2015
As stated in the Request For Information by the Office of the President, Science and Technology
Policy Office on 17 June 2015, a “Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge” should be an
ambitious but achievable goal that harnesses nanoscience, nanotechnology, and innovation to
solve important national or global problems and has the potential to capture the public’s
imagination. With that as a guide, I submit this paper and “grand idea.”
The world’s economy runs on fossil fuel. Indisputably, oil and its derivatives are one of, if not,
the most important natural substance ever discovered and processed. Fossil fuel industrialized
the world and provides the energy which runs and transports the global economy on the ground,
in the air and on water. Fossil fuel, however, is a finite substance. It has an end. The earth’s oil
tank will someday run dry. It’s not a matter of “if” but rather “when.” To that end, all other
global “Grand Challenges” are dependent in one way or another on a continuous supply of fossil
fuel, both now and in the future. This dependency will not end – not in our lifetime, not in our
children’s lifetime, and most likely not for decades or centuries to come. No alternative energy
source comes close to fossil fuel in demand or dependency.
Curing cancer will save lives. Miniature electronics will change how we live. Converting sea
water to potable water will benefit many cultures and societies. However, all of these share a
common denominator – a dependence on fossil fuel – a fuel which will run out. The grandest
challenge facing the world now is to figure out how to get more energy out of the fossil fuel we
use every day. Such a Grand Challenge will demand the brightest minds in the world. Such a
Grand Challenge will demand “out of the box” thinking.
Increasing the energy efficiency of fossil fuel to unimaginable levels will require the increase
and broadening of scientific knowledge, global collaboration between multiple disciplines, span
efforts from discovery to commercialization, is too big to be undertaken by a single entity, and
capture the imagination of the public on a global scale. Remarkably, this can be accomplished
within the next decade. The technology exists today, and it exists in “nano” form. The basic
element to accomplish this attainable endeavor is available right now, today. It does not need to
be discovered. It is being produced here in America in a commercialized production facility.
“It” is a nanomolecule only 1.5 nanometers in diameter but with a very big name – Polyhedral
Oligomeric Silsesquioxane, or POSS for short.
POSS is a revolutionary nanochemical which came into being as a viable product for use in the
1990s. With US Government financing, production scale up occurred throughout the 2000s.
Today, it can be manufactured in the hundreds of tons annually, and its production processes are
scalable to any global scale demand. The ultimate destiny of POSS lies in fossil fuel energy
efficiency improvement through molecular dispersion, and it can happen within the next decade.
I am not a scientist. I am not a chemist. I am not wealthy enough to pursue “grand challenges”
on my own. I am 51-year old Senior Business Analyst who supports Department of Defense
industrial base installation, capacity expansion, and sustainment efforts. I am employed by one
of America’s top three national defense contractors. I have an engineering degree and a Masters
in Management of Technology degree, both from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia
Tech). I have spent my career in various industries performing business, operations, and
manufacturing management. For the past seven years I have been working for the Department of
Defense performing business research and analysis on new and emerging technologies.
As part of my job, I have done extensive research on POSS. I have worked directly with Hybrid
Plastics, Incorporated, the company which manufactures POSS. I have read hundreds of articles
and scientific reports on POSS. I have a professional relationship with the Chief Executive
Officer of Hybrid Plastics. I have performed many POSS-related experiments on my own – in
my office, my kitchen, my garage, and my garden. I have done things with POSS that most
likely have never been done anywhere else in the world, including adding POSS to gasoline.
I have no personal or financial investment in Hybrid Plastics, Inc. I have no contract with
Hybrid Plastics. I have never received payment from Hybrid Plastics for any work I have done
to benefit them. No promise of any type exist between Hybrid Plastics and myself regarding any
work I have done, currently do, or will perform to assist them in gaining business. The
assistance I provide them in seeking new markets and business opportunities is strictly of my
own. I seek to advance the use of POSS because I believe it is destined to do something great for
the world. For the sake of this white paper, I believe it will change consumption of fossil fuels.
I submit this white paper on my own, without coordination from any person, organization, entity
or company, including Hybrid Plastics, Inc. The thoughts and ideas presented in this paper are
mine; I have not plagiarized from any source, other than using some historical information on
POSS and Hybrid Plastics or where annotated. I have no proof that any idea presented in this
paper is viable. This paper represents my own ideas from knowledge gained over several years
of studying POSS. The ideas I propose may seem outlandish, but so did Thomas Edison’s idea
of a lightbulb. I submit this white paper because,
“Defeat is not the worst of failures.
Not to have tried is the true failure.”
George Edward Woodberry
POSS – A Revolutionary Nanochemical
Polyhedral Oligomeric Silsesquioxane (POSS) is a revolutionary new molecular technology
based on nanostructured chemicals. It is an entirely new, green and recyclable polymer
feedstock, the first created since 1955. All over the world, POSS compounds are being hailed as
the next big leap in molecular technology. More than 8,000 articles, peer-reviewed scientific
papers, and patents have been produced on POSS. POSS compounds are being manufactured at
commercial scale and are affordable and cost competitive. POSS compounds can be
incorporated directly into existing formulations without modifying manufacturing processes.
The result is immediate turn-key applicability and usability.
Basic POSS molecule (1.5 nanometers in diameter)
In 1991, Dr. Joseph Lichtenhan and his team at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards
Air Force Base identified monomeric cubes based on silicon as having high potential for a next
generation high temperature rocketry polymer. His collaboration with the University of
California and the University of Dayton at that time produced POSS cube synthesis in
meaningful quantities. He saw commercial potential for POSS, and by 1996, had a pilot plant
operating. His team won the U.S. Air Force’s Basic Research Award as one of the most
noteworthy basic research programs of the year. In 1997, Marrow Publications gave POSS its
Future Technology Award as one of the most important “up-and-coming” technologies for the
In 1998, Dr. Lichtenhan founded Hybrid Plastics, Incorporated and began scaling the production
of POSS from laboratory to commercialized quantities. In 2004, the company relocated from
California to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The company now operates in a 35,000 square feet
facility on 15 acres. Hybrid Plastics is unique among nanotech companies because it actually
manufactures its nano-products on a multi-ton scale. Hybrid Plastics holds, or has exclusive
license to, all the significant patents relating to the “process” and “composition of matter” of the
technology, as well as having its own proprietary trade secrets relating thereto. The company’s
protected intellectual technology portfolio consists of multiple published patents plus a number
of provisional patents. Additionally, the Company has numerous registered trademarks. While
several technologies compete indirectly with the Company, Hybrid has no direct competitors and
has a sustainable first mover advantage in the field of commercially viable nanomaterials.
POSS is now recognized as a platform technology. POSS nanoscopic chemicals provide unique
opportunities to create revolutionary material combinations through a melding of desirable
properties at the 1 nanometer length scale. These new combinations enable the circumvention of
classic material performance trade-offs by exploiting the synergy and properties that only occur
between materials at the nanoscale. They release no volatile organic compounds and, thereby,
produce no odor or air pollution, while offering easy incorporation into existing manufacturing
POSS as a Dispersant
The following information is taken from the Hybrid Plastics website (www.hybridplastics.com)
Effective dispersants not only reduce formulation viscosity, enabling better processing and
higher filler loadings, but they also improve mechanical properties and aesthetics. POSS®
Dispersants excel where other dispersants falter, namely at high temperatures. POSS®
dispersants are tightly bound to the particle surface and outperform regular dispersants, which
desorb and degrade at high temperature.
Each POSS® dispersant molecule has three groups to bind it to the particle. This chelate /
tridentate action boosts the strength of the bond over conventional monofunctional dispersants
that can easily debond. The organic groups on the POSS® are chosen to match the polarity of
the matrix polymer or coating for maximum dispersant efficiency.
Whereas regular dispersants such as stearic acid degrade around 200°C, POSS® are thermally
stable up to over 400°C.
Hybrid Plastics staff has experience developing custom made dispersants for a wide range of
different fillers and pigments. Years of development work have led to these new, unique
dispersants that not only outperform traditional dispersants at high temperature, but offer other
benefits as well. Compared to the industry standard organosilanes, POSS® dispersants offer:
The dispersant layer is precise, 1-2nm in thickness depending upon the POSS® type
chosen (thus ideal for nano-particles and quantum dots)
No VOCs given off when the dispersant binds, only traces of harmless water
No pre-hydrolysis needed
Effective dispersants reduce viscosity by lessening inter-particle interactions. This is the case for
POSS® dispersants. Not only can POSS® dispersants outperform the industry standard
additives, they keep on working at high temperatures.
Genesis of a Grand Challenge
I began researching POSS in May 2008. I read everything I could obtain on the topic. In my
position, I was granted access to Hybrid Plastics’ extensive literature repository, including more
than 3,000 scientific and peer-reviewed articles and more than 2,000 patents on POSS which had
been filed around the world. The more I read, the greater I became intrigued. I discovered that
researchers were using POSS in a multitude of ways and getting phenomenal results. The more I
read, the more I became convinced that POSS was destined for greatness.
Hybrid Plastics was (and still is) a very small company. Their sales and marketing staff consist
of the CEO and a couple of technical employees. With limited resources, they have limited time
to pursue new applications and customers. Their time is spent catering to existing customers and
potential customers who have approached them for assistance. I, therefore, beginning in 2009,
took it upon myself to seek out new opportunities for them.
In 2009, I first approached the company’s CEO with the idea of adding POSS to automobile
gasoline as a dispersant to obtain improved fuel efficiency. He was too busy then to pursue it,
and he was very skeptical. He had never done any such experiments on his own. My personal e-
mail shows that I contacted him in December 2010 and asked again about the idea.
In early 2011, Dr. Lichtenhan sent me three different POSS samples to try on my own in
gasoline experiments. To facilitate my experiments, I completely rebuilt a lawn mower
combustion engine, replacing or cleaning every single part. I mounted the engine to a stable
platform and mounted a temperature probe by the engine’s exhaust. My experiments were not
scientific in nature, nor were they precise. I measured out a quantity of POSS and mixed it with
87 octane gasoline. There was no accuracy in measurements, nor was the amount of POSS
selected from any calculable quantifications. It was basic trial and error. It should be understood
that Hybrid Plastics has formulated more than 250 POSS products. The selection of the one to
use in my experiments was a “best guess” and not based on any previous related experiments.
I poured the POSS-gasoline mixture in the lawn mower engine’s fuel tank and began pulling the
starting cord. The engine started and ran smoothly. The temperature probe next to the exhaust
showed no rise in temperature as compared to a gasoline only mixture. The engine ran. There
was no smoke, there was no knocking, and there was no catastrophic breakdown. My
“backyard” experiment demonstrated that the addition of POSS to unleaded 87 octane gasoline
had no adverse effects on engine performance, at least from an unscientific, unmeasurable stand
point. Another factor I was incapable of measuring was engine performance. Due to personal
reasons, I ceased experimenting and did not resume my efforts. No further experiments have
been conducted by me or by anyone else in the world that is known by Dr. Lichtenhan. My
POSS-gasoline experiment is the only one of its kind that is known.
The Grand Challenge
The President’s Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge provides a method to take my idea of
POSS-enhanced fossil fuels to a level of national attention and involvement. Based upon my
experiments, I firmly believe there is validity in performing advanced research in this area. The
enhancement of fossil fuels represents the clearest and most expeditious route to increased fuel
efficiency for ground, air and sea vehicles which rely on fossil fuel for energy.
Since the creation of the first petroleum-powered automobile almost one hundred and thirty
years ago, the combustion engine has basically not changed. It is a mass of steel in which a
spark ignites petroleum and causes an energetic reaction. The looks of it have changed and there
are more sensors attached to it, but it is still a mass of steel where fuel ignites. For decades,
United States presidents and congresses have urged and practically required automobile
manufacturers to improve fuel efficiency of vehicles. Advances have been minimal.
Manufacturers have struggled to find ways for a hunk of metal to improve its fuel burn.
According the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), fuel economy of the combined car
and light truck fleet peaked in 1987 and has declined since.
The NRDC states that the United States consumes 20 million barrels of oil daily, and this will
increase more than 40% over the next 20 years. NRDC also states that the U.S. passenger fleet
alone currently accounts for one-tenth of the world petroleum consumption. A concerted
national effort to improve petroleum fuel chemistry could reduce this.
America has the technology and intellect to improve fossil fuel efficiency. What America
doesn’t have is a singular national initiative which combines industry, academia and government
resources to change fossil fuel chemistry. What America doesn’t have is a Grand Challenge to
improve fossil fuel efficiency. Within industry, academia and government there are individuals
and teams seeking to make improvements, but on their own, their resources are limited and
knowledge sharing is kept in-house. Without a collaborative national effort, each entity makes
progress in small steps, according to available resources, constraints, and individual priorities
and goals. Each group is funded for specific accomplishments, and when funding expires,
projects are either put on hold or end entirely. Without a Grand Challenge to pull these resources
together, fossil fuel efficiency improvements will continue to advance at a snail’s pace, while the
depletion of the world’s fossil fuel supply continues at blinding speed.
POSS may be a solution. POSS combined with other chemicals and chemistry changes may be
the solution. The problem is, no one is looking at POSS as part of the solution. This is a
travesty. POSS is indisputably the most versatile nano-chemical ever created. Its uses span
practically every imaginable area. From biomedical to paint, from plastics to aluminum, from
lubricants to personal care products, POSS has and is revolutionizing product chemistries and
performance around the globe. Researchers on six continents and in hundreds of countries have
experimented with POSS. More than 3,000 technical papers, peer-reviewed literature, and
articles have been written about it. More than 2,000 patents have been filed on products and
applications using POSS. Hybrid Plastics’ website receives more than 100,000 “hits” monthly,
with the majority coming from the USA, China, South Korea, Germany, Japan, India, Taiwan,
Great Britain, Turkey, Russia, and Poland. POSS is being woven into the fabric of the world.
Not since fossil fuel was first used to light lamps has the opportunity presented itself to improve
fossil fuel chemistry through nano-level changes in order to gain energy efficiency
improvements. The technology is available. The national and international intellect is available.
The public demand favors fuel efficiency improvements. The question is, will the U.S.
Government stand on the sidelines and watch incremental improvements over the next decade, or
will it rise to a Grand Challenge and spearhead a national concerted effort to make a Grand
Change to fossil fuel chemistry in order to see a magnitude change in fuel energy efficiency?
The appointment of a “Fossil Fuel Improvement Czar” and the funding of a national singular
effort involving industry, academia and government would be the catalysts required to see
revolutionary changes to fossil fuel used to power ground, air and sea vehicles.
The objective of this Grand Challenge would be to utilize nanochemicals to create an altered
fossil fuel which could be either a drop-in replacement to existing fossil fuels, or a fuel which
could be used with the addition of a low-cost fuel regulator to existing combustion engines. The
greatest outcome would be that which benefitted all existing combustion engines and would be
affordable to global consumers.
The Grand Opposition
With each Grand Challenge comes grand opposition. A national or global effort to improve
fossil fuel chemistry to obtain dramatic fuel efficiency improvements will have its foes, both
nationally and globally. Those with the most to lose will be the loudest opponents. Global fuel
producing conglomerates stand to lose the most. If automobile fuel changes created a 20%
improvement in gas mileage, fuel producers would see a dramatic reduction in fuel sales. They
will say it can’t be done. They will say it is a foolish endeavor. They will say if the Grand
Challenge achieves its goal, consumers will have to pay for fuel producers’ losses. Any change
which reduces global petroleum use will have an army of antagonists rise up against it. This
Grand Challenge, and those who support and execute it must be prepared for a global assault
against their own and the project’s credibility.
The Grand Dream, The Grand Challenge & The Grand Plan
The Grand Dream is a world which uses less fossil fuel without sacrificing global commerce.
The Grand Challenge is to incorporate nanotechnology into existing fossil fuels to obtain
unprecedented fuel efficiency improvements. The Grand Plan is a national/international effort,
led the U.S. Government, which pulls together the brightest minds in industry, academia, public
sector and government for a singular purpose with a big goal.
It is illogical to assume anyone or any entity would participate in such an endeavor out of
“goodwill.” Personal gain, patents, royalties and such would have to be arranged in such a
manner that participants understood the “What’s in it for me?” outcome. The organization and
execution of such a Grand Challenge will demand the brightest organizers, planners and
administrators. Such an organization will require full time focus. This effort should not be
treated as a “committee” which only meets periodically and reports back to Congress. It will
require Grand Administration and should be treated as such.
The time is now. The world needs to reduce its consumption of fossil fuel. Combustion engine
technology is limited in its ability to improve. Dream technologies such as solar and electric
powered vehicles and biofuels are years away from meeting consumers’ demands. Food-based
fuels such as ethanol reduce the world’s food availability for the sake of transportation, and they
require fossil fuel to be produced. Consumers want their gas-powered vehicles. Fossil fuel
chemistry is the “final frontier” to explore. Nanotechnology is available today. The U.S.
Government should embark on a 10-year effort to alter fossil fuel chemistry for easy and cost
efficient replacement of existing fossil fuels.
If I can be of any further assistance in this issue, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Barry A. Cothran
24 June 2015