SkyNano Technologies: Breaking Through Nanotube Manufacturing Barriers with New Innovations

October 17, 2017

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Anna Douglas, CEO of SkyNano Technologies, is a Ph.D.
Anna Douglas, CEO of SkyNano Technologies, is a Ph.D. student in interdisciplinary material science at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Innovators, like SkyNano Technologies, are injecting fresh ideas and innovative approaches with the help of the Department of Energy’s national laboratories through our Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program. That ingenuity has also been recognized by many outside of the lab, most notably among the entrepreneurial community.

Recently, SkyNano Technologies was honored with the “Crowd Favorite” award at a pitch competition held at the fifth annual “Startup Day” at the Bijou Theatre in Downtown Knoxville. Startup Day is an annual event that brings together businesses, entrepreneurs, investors, research institutions and East Tennesseans to celebrate startup and entrepreneurial culture in East Tennessee.

SkyNano Technologies, one of three start-ups in Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) new Innovation Crossroads program, is one of the nodes in the Energy Department’s Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program. It has developed an open system manufacturing technique to produce low cost, high value carbon nanotubes, a material with potential applications in a variety of areas from energy storage to consumer electronics. SkyNano wants to greatly reduce the cost of manufacturing single-walled carbon nanotubes – widely viewed as one of the most promising new materials for applications ranging from next generation electronic devices to lighter composite materials with better durability.

Anna Douglas, CEO of SkyNano, LLC, founded the company with Cary Pint, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University and CTO of SkyNano, LLC. Using patent-pending technology, the technique has the potential to overcome  cost and scalability limitations associated with existing carbon nanotube manufacturing techniques, while also enabling commercial viability to carbon conversion technologies through  high-value secondary material.  The technique relies on electrochemistry, rather than solely chemical catalysis, and results in a highly efficient process to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into useful functional nanomaterials.

Critical gaps in today's research ecosystem limit innovators' access to training, scientific tools, and research funding needed to advance new concepts and innovative ideas into application. Innovation Crossroads, a two-year post-doctoral research program, provides a home for innovators focusing on energy and manufacturing technologies by supporting scientific entrepreneurs in transforming their early-stage, potential game-changing ideas into clean energy opportunities.

At ORNL, the innovators have access to some of the best scientific resources in the country, as well as scientific and engineering expertise, business mentorship, entrepreneurial training, and introductions to potential partners. Each innovator is also paired with a doctoral student from the University of Tennessee's Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education for assistance with market research and customer discovery.

Douglas will work out of ORNL for the next two years to further develop her innovative method of producing carbon nanotubes.

Learn more about the Department of Energy’s Innovation Crossroads program or opportunities to become a fellow.