SurfTec Wins NSF SBIR Grant to Validate Nano Coating for Automotive and Space Industries

October 18th, 2017 by Rebecca Todd

Fayetteville’s SurfTec, LLC has won a $750,000 Small Business Innovation Research Phase II grant from the National Science Foundation to demonstrate compatibility of its nanoparticle-based adhesion technology with metal-polymer bearings currently on the market.

SurfTec’s technology allows a chemical bond to be formed between polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and various surfaces, without requiring toxic chemicals to etch and defluorinate the PTFE surface. The commercial-ready version of this technology will support automotive and aerospace industry needs for reduced corrosion, friction, and wear in automotive systems.

SurfTec Team and Vision

Dr. Sam Beckford, CEO/President of SurfTec, LLC

SurfTec was formed in 2015 to commercialize the patent-pending polydopamine (PDA)/PTFE technology pioneered by the company founders, Dr. Samuel Beckford, CEO, and Dr. Min Zou, CTO. SurfTec’s vision is to pioneer the development of innovative material surfaces based on nanotechnology.

The team’s background in surface engineering, materials science, tribology, and nanomechanics and involvement in academic research is a significant advantage for continuous innovation. SurfTec envisions its coating technology selling globally and becoming the standard lubricant used in bearings for many applications.

Since its formation, SurfTec has been actively seeking applications of the technology through customer discovery and process refinement.

Beckford, SurfTec principal investigator, received his Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Dr. Beckford’s research was focused on the PDA/PTFE coating technology, which led to six peer-reviewed publications and one related patent. The research has also been recognized by the Al Sonntag Award presented by the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers.

ASBTDC Contributions
“The ASBTDC has been of invaluable support by providing market research data, introducing us to valuation and pricing experts that have experience with university spinoffs and high-tech startups, and providing sound business development advice. Having access to the ASBTDC has allowed SurfTec to save on consulting fees that would otherwise have been necessary,” said Beckford.

Market Need
Losses resulting from equipment downtime and maintenance due to poor lubrication across all industries in the US are as high as 6% of the GDP, an estimated total of $1 trillion for 2014. As little as 0.002% water in grease or oil lubrication can increase the probability of failure by 48%.

SurfTec’s adhesion technology for metal/polymer bearings will initally address needs within the automotive and aerospace industries. “Space applications are particularly interesting because traditional lubricants like oil and grease will vaporize in space,” said Beckford. The total applicable market size for metal-polymer bearings is estimated to be $1.0 billion.

Metal-polymer bearing manufacturers have indicated a need for a method to improve adhesion at the PTFE/metal interface while also reducing corrosion, friction, and wear. “SurfTec’s adhesion technology can offer these benefits to equipment manufacturers, which in turn provides better efficiency and durability to end users,” said Beckford.

NSF SBIR Phase I Outcomes

During Phase I, SurfTec established proof of concept by demonstrating strong metal-polymer adhesion, a 40% reduction in friction, an 80% reduction in wear and eliminating susceptibility to corrosion.

Phase II Objectives
“In Phase II, we will scale up the coating deposition process, and implement pilot processing lines with bearing manufacturers. We will tailor our coating to preselected product lines and work with established customers to implement our technology on existing processing lines,” said Beckford. The adhesion strength of the coating and the tribological properties of finished metal-polymer surfaces will be optimized for each of the targeted products by tuning the coating formulation.

“A thorough understanding of the process-structure-property relationship of these finished surfaces will lead to new scientific knowledge that will be disseminated through applicable journals and trade publications,” said Beckford.

What’s Next for SurfTec?

“The proposed SBIR Phase II work plan will allow us to overcome the remaining technical hurdles and validate the use of this technology as both a solution for improving the adhesion between PTFE and substrates and as a replacement for current PTFE liners in metal-polymer bearings,” said Beckford.

The execution of this project will allow the realization of critical proof points needed by SurfTec’s industrial partners and speed its adoption into product lines. If the scheduled tasks go as planned, SurfTec expects a product launch date the final quarter of 2018.

Advice for NSF SBIR Applicants

“My advice to NSF SBIR Phase II applicants or current NSF SBIR Phase I holders is to place a significant amount of effort on the customer discovery process and finding a market fit during Phase I. Doing this will focus the direction of your research and will allow you to gain contacts and form business relationships that will not only get you closer to selling your product or service, but will serve as a great source of letters of support to include in your Phase II application,” said Beckford. The letters will go a long way in demonstrating interest from members of industry to NSF SBIR reviewers.

NSF SBIR Ph II award abstract