RICHLAND -- Bedbugs could be the next target of scanning technology developed originally at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to screen passengers boarding airplanes.
It is among three technologies developed at the Department of Energy national lab in Richland that have been licensed to young companies as part of a White House initiative. They include millimeter wave technology to be used to see inside walls to detect insects hiding there, plus advances to improve rechargeable batteries and fuel cells.
The White House announced the Startup America initiative earlier this year to make licensing new technologies affordable for start-up companies, with goals of bringing more national lab technologies to market and providing good-paying jobs to help the economy.
The program reduced the cost of options to license patents to U.S. start-up companies to $1,000. That is a savings of $10,000 to $50,000 on average upfront fees for portfolios of one to three patents, according to DOE.
Companies then have a year to option to get an exclusive license for the technology for a specific use.
VisiRay in Corvallis, Ore., used the program to sign an option agreement with PNNL for millimeter wave technology, planning to manufacture devises to detect pests inside walls.
PNNL initially developed the technology with Federal Aviation Administration grants to scan passengers using harmless radio waves. It can detect objects hidden beneath their clothing, whether they are metal, liquid, plastic or ceramic.
The technology now is in use at about 78 airports nationwide and the Transportation Security Administration has ordered 300 more of the scanners.
In June, the technology also was licensed to be used to help shoppers, creating a three-dimensional holographic image of their bodies to help them find clothing most likely to fit them.
VisiRay sees additional potential developing devices that use the technology to allow inspectors to see through drywall particle board and view clear images of pests inside walls. The initial target will be bedbugs, sometimes called wall louse, because they may live inside walls as well as in beds and couches.
Longer term, the technology might be practical for looking for other pests that are difficult to spot in residential or commercial buildings, such as termites. However, new research is in the early stages.
VisiRay was started by University of Oregon Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship students participating in PNNL's University Technology Entrepreneurship Program.
The second technology to be licensed through Startup America could lead to products designed to increase the storage capacity of rechargeable batteries used to power portable devices, such as laptop computers, and electric vehicles.
Recharging could take minutes instead of hours, according to PNNL.
Vorbeck Materials, based in Jessup, Md., optioned PNNL's method for building tiny titanium oxide and carbon structures that greatly improve the performance of lithium ion batteries. It plans to use the technology in connection with its proprietary graphene material to increase battery capacity and create batteries with a longer cycle life.
The third technology licensed through Startup America supports the reduced use of expensive platinum in certain fuel cells that are used primarily for backup power.
Evaxa Energy Systems, of Corona Del Mar., Calif., optioned the technology. By requiring less platinum in fuel cells, it could reduce the cost of manufacturing fuel cells by up to one-third without decreasing overall performance and also improve stability and the life of the fuel cell, according to PNNL.
"We have a long history of working closely with entrepreneurs and early stage companies to develop and adapt our innovations into new or improved products and services," said Cheryl Cejka, PNNL's director of technology commercialization, in a statement. "These three Startup America options are just a few of our latest examples."