Sordal Lands New Material Grants

May 14, 2004
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HOLLAND — Two new federal research grants could help to accelerate a Holland firm's development of new-age materials that are lightweight, strong and resist high temperatures.

Under the latest grant awards, totaling $820,000, the military is looking to use the composite materials from Sordal Inc. to better insulate naval vessels from fire and heat, and chemical tanks that are part of the U.S. Air Force's Airborne Laser Program.

The two grants, awarded through the federal government's Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) initiative, ultimately will enable Sordal to commercialize its Solrex and Armarex materials more quickly.

"It does accelerate the pipeline. The economic opportunity is just being magnified," Sordal Executive Vice President Linda Chamberlain said. "The grants help how materials can be applied. Both of these grants have a much greater opportunity to diffuse into greater markets."

In the case of Solrex, the infusion of cash from a $750,000 Phase II SBIR grant awarded Sordal in April will reduce development time by some 40 percent, Chamberlain predicts. While she can't offer a specific timeframe in terms of years, that's 40 percent less time in getting Solrex to market for private, commercial applications after the government puts it to use first.

A polymide foam, Solrex has potential applications in aerospace, the automotive industry, home products and office furniture, and commercial buildings, Chamberlain said.

"It truly could redesign elements of architecture," she said. "The potential is unlimited. It's as limited as our creativity."

For the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, using Solrex for a fuel tank insulator will result in a 30 percent weight reduction from current construction standards and tanks that have the ability to withstand 5,000 pounds per square inch of pressure.

Sordal originally developed Solrex for NASA to use as heat insulation on the space shuttle. The Pentagon has since stepped up funding for developing newer high-strength, flame-resistant materials for military applications such as naval vessels, Chamberlain said.

Sordal presently has six additional SBIR grant applications pending that collectively represent a potential of up to $600,000 in new research funding. The Holland-based firm, which recently opened a laboratory in the Grand Rapids SmartZone housed in the Grand Rapids Product Development Center downtown, has received 10 SBIR grants since founder Dale Danver started the company five years ago.

That includes a $70,000 Phase I grant awarded in late April from the U.S. Navy-Naval Sea Logistics Center to do research and development on composite materials for fire-resistant and protection systems aboard ships. That project will incorporate Solex and Armarex, a nonflammable, lightweight material that's 10 times stronger than steel on a weight basis.           

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