Or, How I Learned to Love Nanostructure
Nelumbo’s Platform is a new manufacturing technology that applies morphology, shape, or structure to surfaces (“surface structure”). This capability enables our customers to apply coatings with a variety of unique performance properties. The Platform is a cost effective liquid application process that uses clean, abundant resources as inputs. There are many opportunities where greater control of surface properties can create new and significantly upgraded products.
Inspired By Nature
Nature uses materials to create powerful capabilities. By arranging building blocks (atoms and molecules) in particular patterns, shapes, and structures, nature is able to achieve brilliant colors (Blue Morpho butterfly and opal), naturally antimicrobial surfaces (shark skin), impressive stickiness (gecko feet) and more. Each of these properties is based on the shape the building blocks are assembled into, rather than any property of the building blocks used; in other words, the same valuable effect can be generated with many different types of raw materials. What if we could harness this ability to assemble raw resources into valuable materials as we see fit? We could bring fantastic new capabilities to a whole world of products.
Practical Limitations Today
The goal of the Nelumbo Platform is to provide high precision micro and nano structures with a low-cost, scalable process.
Today, there are — broadly —only two categories of structural surface modification. Lithography, the main tool used to produce semiconductor chips, is able to apply materials to a surface with extreme precision — at extreme cost. Alternatively, spray or dip coatings and paints are able to apply low-cost materials onto many surfaces with relatively low precision; this provides many desirable properties but limits the ultimate value we can get. The goal of the Nelumbo Platform is to fill the wide gap between these bookends: providing relatively high precision application of materials to a surface with a low-cost, scalable process. Doing so can enhance many products with powerful surface properties for the first time, with benefits including higher performance, lower cost, reduced emissions, enabled recyclability, and reduced use of harmful chemicals.
What is the Platform?
The Platform is a series of reactions that “grow” new materials on a surface to create structures of interest. A surface or a whole product is exposed to prepared liquids with specific conditions (time, temperature, concentration, and more). These liquids react with the object and create a new layer of material. We can think of this as a form of 3D printing, but for a surface coating rather than a whole product. By controlling process conditions, we can change properties of the material grown on an object, and ultimately what value propositions are delivered to customers.
There are a wide array of process parameters that can be manipulated to generate different resulting materials from the Platform. This is different from most coatings that work based on adhesion to a surface and do not experience a reaction during application. This difference is key to what Nelumbo offers — we can harness the reaction steps to bring more value than previously possible. Through thousands of experiments and proprietary tests, we have developed a knowledge base that is a map of process parameters → materials generated → performance properties. This relationship between changing inputs and varied output materials is semi-empirical, meaning the only way to generate this knowledge base is one experiment at a time; if you start with a single material, it is not possible to extrapolate the surrounding body of knowledge.
What can the Platform do?
One might ask: what exactly are the powerful properties we keep referencing? The driving principle is that at the micro and nano scale (the size of shapes we build on surfaces using the Platform), ordered assembly causes impressive surface properties. One example is Droplet (R)ejection®, the ability to get condensing droplets of water to physically leap off of surfaces (against gravity!) because the surface is perfectly designed to make it very difficult for newly formed water droplets to stick. This is a simple but powerful example that has strong implications for how we design many operating systems — with applications from HVAC equipment to wind turbines.
Applying the Platform
There are multiple ways the Platform can be applied to different products. Two examples are “batch immersion” and “roll to roll”. Batch immersion looks similar to an electroplating line, where temperature rather than electricity is used as a driving force for the reaction.
We as humans know that we can get different value from products based on how we put together the building blocks at the macro scale — for example the same plastic can be made into a comb, or a pen, or the case for a pair of headphones. Taking things a step further, surface materials or coatings can have a significant impact on the performance of the whole product, and that range of possibilities is currently underserved with existing technology. The tools available today address either end of a large spectrum, and the gap in the middle is a huge opportunity. Nelumbo’s Platform is designed to apply structured materials to a broad range of surfaces and products, opening the door to new value propositions. The Platform includes a proprietary library of knowledge that is a map of how changing application settings generates varied output properties. New materials can be applied with several different methods and all the inputs are abundant, non-toxic resources.