Ampere Scientific Awarded $700,000 to Advance Technology that Improves Aircraft Safety and Artificial Hips while Cutting Energy Use

Funding will advance control system that offers higher quality and lower energy use at VAR furnaces that make specialty metals used in aircraft engines, medical implants and other applications

PORTLAND, Ore. – Ampere Scientific, the Albany, Ore., startup and VertueLab-supported company developing a new clean technology that improves the quality and safety of specialty metals while cutting energy usage during production by 25 percent, has been awarded a $704,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II grant from National Science Foundation (NSF).

Specialty metals, such as titanium and nickel alloys, are used in critical high-performance parts in the aerospace, energy and medical industries, where failure of parts, caused by hard-to-detect defects introduced within metal ingots during processing, can lead to catastrophic systems failures and potentially life-threatening situations.

"For the fist time ever, our Vacuum Arc Control technology can measure and control arc location in Vacuum Arc Remelting (VAR) furnaces during processing, which is a big deal, because nobody's ever done that before," said Paul King, CEO of Ampere Scientific. "This reduces defects in the ingots while also cutting energy consumption and material waste during production."

The VAR process, which has remained relatively unchanged since its invention in the 1940s and 50s, loses more than $1 billion annually through material waste and electrical inefficiencies across the domestic industry. Specialty metals in the U.S. is a $25 billion industry.  

VertueLab's SBIR/STTR Assistance program helped Ampere Scientific develop the grant proposal, and Business Oregon offered a matching grant of $150,000. The new funding, which follows a $225,000 SBIR Phase I grant and a $50,000 Business Oregon SBIR Phase I match two years ago, will enable Ampere Scientific to obtain validation of its technology from key industry players, including ATI Specialty Alloys and Components in Millersburg, Ore.  

"This new Phase II funding will allow us to provide proof-of-concept for our Vacuum Arc Control system at industrial scale, which is what the industry wants to see," King said. "We are confident we can demonstrate that this new technology will lead to a wide range of benefits, from safer aircraft engines and better artificial hips to energy savings and less waste." 

Each 20-ft.-tall VAR furnace costs millions of dollars to build and generates an electric arc, or plasma column, that melts a consumable electrode, burning off impurities and creating a large ingot of various specialty metals that are used in everything from hip replacements to aerospace parts.

Until Ampere Scientific developed its Arc Position Sensing (APS) technology and then its VARmetricTM  technology (using prior SBIR funding and assistance from VertueLab and Oregon State University), it was impossible to "see" the arc used for melting, so fine control of the process was not an option. This resulted in significant electrical energy loss, waste buildup on the ingot surface and significant safety issues in VAR furnaces.

"We are grateful to VertueLab's Leon Wolf and the SBIR/STTR Assistance Program that played a key role in helping us secure this Phase II grant," King said. "VertueLab is a very valuable resource for startups like us working to bring new clean technologies to the marketplace."

VertueLab operates the SBIR/STTR Assistance Program as part of its mission to help cleantech startups navigate the early stages of research, development and deployment of promising climate change solutions.

"It is very rewarding to see the impact our early-stage investment in Ampere Scientific is having in the form of attracting this level of follow-on funding from the NSF," said David Kenney, President and Executive Director of VertueLab. "We will be using our VertueLab funding and expert support services to further support promising clean technologies that can help the world transition to a low-carbon economy."

Media Contact: Gregg Kleiner, 541-740-9654
Sources: David Kenney, VertueLab, 503-780-8736; Paul King, Ampere Scientific, 503-939-3571

About VertueLab
For 10 years, VertueLab (formerly Oregon BEST) has supported and made direct program-related investments in innovative cleantech startups, connecting promising companies with state and federal resources, while preparing them for follow-on investment through a series of focused programs. VertueLab partners with donors, philanthropic foundations and impact investors to ensure their dollars are aligned with their values and are having a measurable impact on the environment. VertueLab is an independent nonprofit supported in part by Business Oregon.

About Ampere Scientific
Ampere Scientific, is the developer of the VARmetricTM technology based on the patented, award-winning Arc Position Sensing (APS) technology originally invented at a U.S Dept. of Energy national laboratory on behalf of and with funding provided by the Specialty Metals Processing Consortium, an industry consortium representing the manufacturing of high value metals (Ti, Ni, Nb etc). VARmetricTM is revolutionizing the way titanium and other alloys of high value are manufactured, providing the unprecedented ability to identify operating conditions leading to identification of safety critical operations and yield loss and making it possible to decrease these losses by 50 percent or more, saving the industry hundreds of millions of dollars per year. VARmetricTM is dubbed “the MRI of industrial processes."