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After years of testing, Seattle nanotech firm Modumental poised for billion-dollar market

Paul Roberts, The Seattle Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

After nearly a decade of field trials and demonstrations, a Seattle-born nanomaterial that is 30 times more corrosion-resistant than traditional galvanized steel is poised to go mass market.

On Wednesday, Seattle-based Modumetal announced a joint venture with a Toyota subsidiary that will use its high-tech galvanizing process to make millions of unusually durable bolts and other fasteners for the oil and gas industry, said CEO and co-founder Christine Lomasney.

It's a coming-of-age moment for Modumetal, which was launched in 2007 to commercialize a novel process in which micro-layers of metals and other materials are sandwiched into products that are much stronger than their conventional metal counterparts.

For example, bolts and other fasteners that are coated with a thin layer of Modumetal's special nano-galvanizing materials can last 30 times longer than conventionally coated fasteners. That's an attractive feature for oil and gas companies that, with the easy-to-reach petroleum already tapped, are "operating in some of the most extreme environments on the planet," Lomasney said.

But it's one thing to develop a killer product, and another to sell it.

Although Modumetal was already producing small batches of coated fasteners at its factory in Maltby, northeast of Woodinville, large-scale production had to wait until the oil and gas industry was ready to formally approve Modumetal's new parts for widespread use in oil rigs and other projects, Lomansey said.

 

That process took eight years. But when approval finally arrived, late last year, demand for Modumetal's fasteners rapidly outstripped production at the Maltby plant.

"It's like the light switch flipped," Lomasney said. "We've gone from being in a state of cultivating the market through specification to dashing to keep up with demand."

Two years ago, in anticipation of that future demand, Modumetal began working with Toyota Tsusho America, a subsidiary of Toyota, on plans for a larger factory in Houston, Lomasney said.

The factory, which is expected to be ready in four to six weeks, will have 10 times the capacity of the Malty plant, and will be expandable, she said, adding that the Maltby facility will continue to operate after the Houston plant opens.

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