ONAMI commercialization project spinout lifts off in Oregon’s Willamette Valley

March 28th, 2014

Shoei Electronic Materials Inc. has bought property in west Eugene with plans to expand its research and development and start production of a nanotechnology that could revolutionize televisions, smartphones and other devices.

The company, a subsidiary of Japan-based Shoei Chemical Inc., bought the 5-acre lot in the Greenhill Technology Park last month. The sale price was $297,000, property records show.

The parent company acquired the technology from Voxtel, a Beaverton-based nanotechnology company. That technology promises to significantly reduce the cost of producing minute particles known as quantum dots. Oregon State University researchers teamed with Voxtel to develop the technology with state funding.

Shoei Chemical created the subsidiary to bring the technology to a commercial scale and then manufacture it.

The dots are crystals—measuring 0.0001 of the width of a human hair—made of silicone or other semiconductor material that gather and emit light very efficiently and can change color precisely depending on their size.

Electronics companies are starting to use quantum dots to produce televisions and electronic devices that display more accurate colors and draw less power. Companies also could use the technology to improve solar cells, night vision goggles and medical imaging devices.

“It’s basically on the forefront,” said David Schut, the local company’s vice president of research and development. “People are starting to implement them into production.”

Sony has introduced quantum-dot technology in some of its televisions. Amazon has used it in its new Kindle Fire tablet, and there are rumors that Apple will include it in its new iPhone.

Several companies are producing quantum dots for commercial uses.

Several years ago, Voxtel, with Schut on board, and the OSU researchers rented a lab at University of Oregon and set out to solve a major problem in the production of quantum dots and other nanoparticles.

Large-scale production creates quantum dots of different sizes. That’s problematic for some applications, including televisions, because their size dictates the colors they’ll emit. A group of different-size dots, each emitting a different color, will produce white light instead of the color that the manufacturer wants.

Companies separate the dots into similar sizes to solve this dilemma, but that creates its own problems, explained Brian Paul, an Oregon State University (OSU) researcher who worked on the project.

“In addition, you’re throwing away everything,” he said. “The separation process is very expensive. It doesn’t add up.”

The Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI) funded their work to develop a method that can produce quantum dots and other nanoparticles continuously and with more uniform size.

Schut said the technology is not only significantly cheaper, but it is “greener” because it uses less solvents while producing a higher yield.

ONAMI—an academic, business and government collaboration—works with and funds projects by universities and businesses to help bring new nanotechnologies to market faster to create high-paying jobs.

The results of the initial research were impressive enough that Shoei acquired the technology from Voxtel, and Schut joined the company’s newly created subsidiary.

Shoei Electronic Materials is now developing a reactor system that can produce quantum dots on a commercial scale as it seeks out customers who can use the technology.

“This was a great opportunity for us to work with an Oregon-based company,” said Greg Herman, another OSU researcher who worked on the project and previously worked with Schut at Hewlett-Packard. “The fact that Shoei is putting the R&D center in Eugene is outstanding.

“It’s creating jobs.”

Shoei Electronic Materials started its work six months ago in Corvallis at OSU’s Microproducts Breakthrough Institute, an ONAMI-affiliated research and commercialization hub and shared user facility. It has 10 U.S. employees plus another 10 employees who travel back and forth from Japan, Schut said. It plans to expand its workforce to 50 employees.

The company plans to expand its research and development to Eugene and eventually build a plant and headquarters, hiring even more workers.

Schult couldn’t provide a firm timeline for its arrival in Eugene, saying it depends on the company’s ability to bring the technology to market. The property is in an enterprise zone, so it could be eligible for future property tax breaks.

Schut, a University of Oregon graduate, said Eugene is a good location for the company’s future plans because it can draw on the wealth of knowledge of researchers studying quantum dots and other nanotechnology at the University of Oregon and Oregon State University.

Lane Metro Partnership, the area’s business recruitment agency, long has touted the research at the local universities helping build the local economy, and Shoei’s investment in Eugene is one example of that, said John Lively, the partnership’s economic development specialist.

“I believe we have more opportunities like that in our area,” he said.

This story was adapted from the original, which appeared in the March 28, 2014, issue of the Register Guard: Nano company buys local land