Record-breaking year for patents

Posted: February 11, 2013 - 2:57pm | Y-12 Report | Volume 9, Issue 2 | 2013

Fiscal 2012 was a fruitful year for innovative research and development at the Y‑12 National Security Complex. Site inventors were issued an unprecedented 11 patents. Technologies and processes from many of Y‑12's latest patents, like those from previous years, can extend beyond the Nuclear Security Enterprise into diverse areas of private industry.

One technology, the measurement system Extrans, determines how much water permeates a material. At Y‑12 this measuring method can protect moisture-sensitive material from corroding. In the food or pharmaceutical industry, however, Extrans could test product packaging to ensure that no moisture reaches the contents.

Another patent, HexBilt™, involves the mixing of nanostructures, or nanotubes, with metal or ceramic alloys to create materials that have increased strength, conductivity and elasticity, along with greater resistance to wear and erosion. HexBilt™ technology could enhance components in the aeronautical, military, automotive, tooling and recreational industries.

A third 2012 patent is for a rolling procedure for uranium-molybdenum, or U-Mo, alloy foils, which replace highly enriched uranium in research reactors.

The technology has earned considerable publicity for its role in nonproliferation. The ability to roll thin foils also has led to the opportunity to roll thin uranium foil for medical isotope target production. Several research reactors around the U.S. plan to convert to U-Mo in the next few years.

“These 11 new patents exemplify Y‑12's long-standing dedication to solving tough research and development problems and the many benefits that come from our researchers' creative thinking and hard work,” said Tammy Graham, manager of Technology Transfer Operations.

What is the wellspring of Y‑12's patent endeavors? The site's remarkable craftsmanship and precision machining have long produced innovations, such as the moon boxes Y‑12 developed for NASA's Apollo missions. And pioneers like the legendary physical chemist John Googin, holder of a dozen patents, epitomized Y‑12's innovative spirit. One of his technologies led to the supply of feedstock that powers the nuclear Navy, a Y‑12 core mission (see page 32).

“Today through Y‑12's Plant Directed Research and Development process, technologies are created to solve production and security challenges where solutions previously did not exist,” said Jeremy Benton, manager of Technology Commercialization and Partnerships. “Often, those technologies have relevance to other government entities. By securing patent or copyright protection, we ensure that we can transfer those solutions to a private provider or directly to other government bodies.”

Licensing agreements enable outside companies — just launched or long established — to obtain the commercial rights for Y‑12–developed technologies and to use Y‑12 copyrights and trademarks.

A patent license can spin out a new product line or even a new company. Recent licenses include those for the SIMWyPES® cleaning technology, which will be issued a patent in 2013; the RonJohn cleaning agent; and the Access Rate Control System, a turnstile speed-control mechanism. In response to a 2011 Department of Energy challenge to facilities to enhance technology deployment, job creation and economic development, Y‑12 created an award-winning Xpress Terms Licensing opportunity, available only to startup companies.

Another Y‑12 technology undergoing patent review, Magnofex, may have broad applications for the electronics industry. The Magnofex processing method for nonferrous metals uses magnetic fields to control the grain of a solder. In lead-free solders, this Y‑12–developed process reduces “tin whiskers,” improving manufacturability for commercial items such as electronic components, blades and chains.

For more information, contact the Office of Technology Commercialization and Partnerships, OTCP@y12.doe.gov; 855-545-TECH (8324) toll-free.