eSpin Technologies hopes to filter funds through its nanofibers

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April 14, 2003 — A Chattanooga, Tenn., company is putting a new spin on an old manufacturing technique.

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ESpin Technologies Inc. wants to be a major producer of nanofibers for the filtration and other industries. It uses a process known as electrospinning, which combines electrostatics, polymer sciences, fluid mechanics and engineering. Electrospinning was first used in the textile industry during the mid-1930s, but its application in other industries has been limited.

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But eSpin is not repeating what other companies have done. Armed with a $2 million federal grant from the Advanced Technology Program (ATP), it’s developing a special high-speed device to overcome two traditional barriers to electrospinning: high production costs and low output of material. “The real success will come when we can successfully commercialize technology to produce fiber economically,” said Jayesh Doshi, eSpin’s president and chief executive.

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Nanofibers are up to 100 times smaller in diameter than conventional textile fabrics. Experts say that the smaller size translates into significant cost and performance improvements. Here’s how electrospinning works: A high voltage is applied to a thin tube that contains a polymer solution. The voltage ejects a continuous stream of liquid, which is then split into very fine jets of fluid. The evaporating solvent creates fibers that are collected and formed into layers, or nanofiber mats.

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eSpin has successfully commercialized mats of electrospun fiber 50 to 100 nanometers in diameter. Its nanofibers are used to develop filters for fuel cells, heating and air conditioning systems, and for aerospace and automotive parts. Other possible uses include cosmetics, paint additives and medical devices.

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Company sales approached $1 million in 2002, said Doshi. He declined to identify client companies, saying only that they include some of the “bigger players” in the filtration industry.

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eSpin produces about 10,000 yards of nanofiber per day — far below the needs of major filtration companies. “We have one customer that would like to have 50 million square yards a year. That’s (only) one customer, and there are hundreds of filter companies,” Doshi said.

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The fiber sales have helped eSpin invest money in its new machine, which could be ready for full-scale production as early as this year.

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The payoff could be worth it. According to the McIlvaine Co., a Northfield, Ill., market research firm, the global market for filtration media could reach $75 billion by 2020.

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The large surface area of nanofibers — about 100 times smaller in diameter than conventional textile fibers — offer significant performance advantages, experts say. However, no commercial processes exist for affordably making nanofibers in quantities sufficient for large-scale manufacturing.

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“Nanofibers never really became fabrics,” said Darrell Reneker, a professor of polymer science at the University of Akron in Ohio. “It costs more to make them, so you really have to want surface area, which is what you buy when you make nanofibers: surface area per unit mass.”

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Doshi said eSpin’s proprietary device could produce large volumes of nanofibers at lower cost than existing technologies allow. As the technology matures, eSpin expects sales to the filtration industry to account for about $20 million annually within five to seven years.

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“We are hoping to have several (filtration) products developed, and also to perfect the art of making those products,” said Doshi. “Then it will be a matter of putting things together for manufacturing in large-scale quantities.”

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Large filtration companies could emerge as competitors, though. Donaldson Co., a huge filtration system maker in Minneapolis, has patented nanofibers made using an electrospinning process.

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eSpin, which is self-funded, has 11 full-time employees, and expects to move soon from the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce’s Business Development Center. Doshi said the company will add additional staff once its new manufacturing device is ready for production.

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Company file: eSpin Technologies Inc.
(last updated April 14, 2003)

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Company

eSpin Technologies Inc.

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Headquarters

100 Cherokee Blvd, Suite 325

Chattanooga, Tenn., 37405

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History

eSpin was founded in 1999 by Jayesh Doshi, who had previously worked at DuPont in fiber-spinning research.

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Industry

Filtration tools

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Employees

11

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Small tech-related products and services

eSpin develops polymeric nanofibers (50-100 nanometers) used for filtration product research and development. Other markets include heating, ventilating and air conditioning; the automotive/aerospace sector; energy; medical devices; and cosmetics. The fibers, created from materials such as carbon and nylon, are developed using a process called electrospinning, which helps increase output and lower production costs.

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Management

  • Jayesh Doshi: president and chief executive officer
  • Parkash Kunda: business development director
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    Revenues

    Approximately $1 million in 2002. The company projects revenues of $20 million in five to seven years.

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    Selected customers

  • U.S. Defense and Energy departments
  • NASA
  • TRW
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    Investment history

    eSpin was the first Tennessee-based company to win a federal Advanced Technology Program grant, receiving a $2 million award in fall 2002. Otherwise, the company has been funded by its management.

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    Barriers to market

    Because eSpin services major players in the filtration industry, it will need to ramp up its production capabilities to meet clients’ high-volume needs. This will be difficult due to a lack of affordable large-scale production processes.

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    Competitors

  • Applied Sciences Inc.
  • Catalytic Materials LLC
  • Donaldson Company Inc.
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    Goals

    Produce and sell electrospun nanofibers for research while completing development of a platform technology — a high-speed device that could improve output and reduce manufacturing costs for new nanofibers.

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    Why they’re in small tech

    To revolutionize a 70-year-old manufacturing process by going to a “smaller level.”

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    What keeps them up at night

    Mitigating the risks associated with the solvents and the high voltage. “You might have a bright idea, bright product and bright investors standing behind you — go and find an insurance company that wants to support you,” said Jayesh Doshi, eSpin’s president and chief executive.

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    Recent news

    Chattanooga-based nanotech firm wins $2 million grant

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    Contact

  • URL: www.nanospin.com
  • Phone: 423-267-NANO (6266)
  • Fax: 423-267-6265
  • E-mail: info@nanospin.com
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    – Research by Gretchen McNeely

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