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The University of Alabama

UA Start-Up Company Wins NSF Small Business Innovation Grant

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.  — The National Science Foundation has awarded a University of Alabama start-up company a $150,000 grant to further develop a new catalyst for the petrochemical industry.

Catalysts cause or accelerate chemical reactions, and the UA headquartered company, ThruPore Technologies, seeks to prove, through additional research made possible by the grant, that its catalysts are less expensive to produce and have superior properties to those presently on the market.

In addition to the effort potentially helping industry save time and money, the impact of the grant, itself, will be felt at UA in multiple ways, said Dr. Martin Bakker, a UA associate professor of chemistry who co-founded the company with Dr. Franchessa Sayler, who earned her doctorate from UA earlier this year.

“The company will acquire a new, high throughput reaction system to run 24 reactions in parallel,” said Bakker, a faculty member in UA’s College of Arts and Sciences. “It will be shared by the students at UA and ThruPore Tech. This means that the students working on the project will become exposed to state-of-the-art instrumentation, as well as being involved in a project with direct industrial relevance.”

The company is headquartered in UA’s Alabama Innovation and Mentoring of Entrepreneurs building. Dr. Kevin Shaughnessy, associate professor and chair of chemistry, is co-principal investigator on the grant. The NSF Small Business Innovation Research Phase I grant, which begins Jan. 1, will enable the company to soon hire another full-time employee and also provide full-time support of a graduate student, Bakker said. In addition to further testing, company representatives will also seek feedback from the industry to further gauge the market potential of their product.

ThruPore Technologies was one of three UA start-up companies advancing to the finals of the spring 2013 Alabama Launchpad Start-Up Competition. The company earlier landed a $50,000 NSF Innovation Corps, or I-Corps, grant where it worked, along with Dr. Scott Spear, AIME research engineer, to obtain preliminary research results that helped lead to the latest grant.

“We will also be developing some new catalysts that have similar structures and so should have similar properties, but which are made by more efficient processes to make it easier to scale-up production,” said Bakker.

The University of Alabama is home to 13 start-up companies.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.