Technology & innovation

Marchmont’s focus on innovation: Tomsk’s universities offer nano-film and nano-additive

18 Jan '12
Oleg Kouzbit, Online News Managing Editor

We’ll take a closer look today at Tomsk’s two new nanotech developments announced in the first working week of this year. One comes from Tomsk State University (TSU) and focuses on next gen, nano-particle based packaging film that fends off UV radiation and protects against extremely high and low temperatures. The other is a nanodiamond automotive additive developed at Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU) and believed to help lower fuel consumption and toxicity of auto exhaust. Both projects are benefiting from Russia’s recent laissez-faire policy towards university-spawned entrepreneurship.

The nano with “rare earths chemistry”

Tomsk State University is developing its next gen, nano-particle based packaging film that has a range of promising applications from food packaging to construction, agricultural and even mobile communications purposes.

Polyplast Engineering, a new technology start-up that spun off from the university in late 2011, is reportedly using TSU’s know-how to develop a variety of film types and has designed special lab equipment powerful enough to process up to 50 tons of locally produced polyethylene a month.

When asked about project financials and details of the technology, Polyplast Engineering CEO Olga Babkina declined to comment, saying only that “rare earths chemistry” specialists had been involved.

Set up as far back as 1878 by Tsar Alexander II as Imperial Siberian University, Tomsk State University joined in April 2010 a pioneering group of 12 Russian higher educational establishments granted the status of National Research Universities. Its premises have also been on a federal list of most valuable items of Russian cultural legacy since 1998.

Filming everything from plants to cell phones

According to Ms. Babkina, the start-up’s first project is shrinkable film with UV-protective properties for regional foodstuffs. The company is said to have already fine-tuned the technology and is launching domestic production.

Another product to be developed is special nano-based tripack (three-layer) film that wards off ultraviolet radiation from crops on large areas. This new film is also believed to protect plants from both extremely high and low temperatures.

As an innovative consumer product, Polyplast Engineering has developed original radiation-absorbing film that uses iron-bearing and carbonaceous nano-particles. When glued to a cell phone, the invention is thought to guard its owner against harmful radiation.

Longer-term R&D plans reportedly include what the developers call a “smart” milk package with touch-sensitive properties, as well as eco-friendly packaging materials that decompose in earth much faster than polyethylene.

TPU’s nanodiamond additive

Alexander Ilyin from another long-established Siberian alma mater, Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU), has reportedly designed a sophisticated nanodiamond additive that is said to help car drivers save on fuel and reduce toxicity of auto exhaust.

The new substance is added to fuels or lubricants to offset the micro-defects that interacting surfaces inevitably have, thus improving the performance of a car’s coupler and piston assembly.

The innovation has been tested, reportedly enabling two-to-three percent reduction of fuel consumption for automobiles with mileage in excess of 40,000km. The additive is said to boost engine compression while considerably decreasing exhaust fumes.

Siberia’s oldest think-tank

Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU) is one of the oldest scientific, educational and R&D centers in Russia’s trans-Urals area. Set up in 1896 as Tomsk Institute of Technology, it is also one of Russia’s new National Research Universities.

TPU ranks fifth in a rating of the RF’s 164 technology-developing universities. It now incorporates eleven departments, 100 chairs, three research centers focused on high voltages, nuclear physics and nondestructive testing, 68 research labs, and Siberia’s only nuclear reactor for training and research purposes.

Right out of the gate

A professor at the university’s Institute of Hi-tech Physics, Mr. Ilyin with his team of students and post-graduates is setting up a new company to start producing the additive on the premises of a local instrument-making factory.

How much it will cost to kick-start the project has yet to be specified. It is reported, however, that “a number of mechanical engineering firms from Yekaterinburg, the Urals,” are considering putting up initial capital to support the endeavor and placing first orders for the prospective product. Regional Siberian companies are also expected to show interest as the effort unfolds.

Talents that work for themselves

TSU’s Polyplast Engineering and the spin-off company currently being set up by TPU belong to Russia’s growing number of hi-tech SMEs that have emerged after new federal policy came into force in August 2009. For the first time in the RF’s history it allowed universities to set up small businesses and retain IP rights.

Federal Law 217 immediately came under fire of criticism as innovators, business angel investors and VC capitalists found it too ‘middle-of-the-road’ and indeterminate. However, in a country where the state had always undividedly owned universities’ intellectual products it was a most promising first start.

With a growing body of evidence related to the legislation federal authorities pledge to polish and refine Law 217, and universities like TSU and TPU are now beginning to understand how to smartly turn the new tide to their advantage.
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Locations: Tomsk

Tags: TSU (50) / TPU (30) / packaging film (0) / nanodiamond additive (0) / Polyplast Engineering (0) / Olga Babkina (0) / Alexander Ilyin (0) /

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