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British Chemistry Society Awards UC Researcher Innovation Prize
From: University Currents
Date: April 28, 2000
By: Chris Curran
Phone: (513) 556-1806
Archive: Campus News, Research News

The Royal Society of Chemistry in Great Britain awarded its 1999 prize for industrial innovation to a team of researchers from UC and Brent International who found a better way to stop corrosion and rust.

image of Van Ooij and students in lab

Wim van Ooij, professor of materials science and engineering at UC, developed a series of metal pre-treatments which are significantly safer and less expensive than traditional chrome-based treatments.

The treatments use a class of compounds known as silanes to protect bare metals such as steel and aluminum. This makes them useful on everything from cars and household appliances to ships, bridges and planes.

image of treated metal

The chemical society noted that the silane treatments have important environmental advantages over chromium which is highly toxic. "The technology was excellent chemistry wtih clear environmental and safety benefits."

"Normally, aluminum and aluminum alloys are protected by forming a chromate film at the surface," explained van Ooij. "Chromium has now found to be toxic and needs to be replaced. Really, the whole world is looking for chromate replacements. Nobody has found suitable replacements. We feel we have found one."

The award announcement emphasized that the savings on waste treatment, recycling, and plant maintenance are complemented by the minimal effort needed to introduce the technology. The coatings can be applied easily, and the smoother paint surface can actually reduce the amount of paint needed on the finished product.

The team included 17 scientists working in Great Britain and at UC. Their work began in 1995, and the company believes the products developed will become the global industrial standard in the future. Adrian Whyle, innovation leader at Brent International, also said the project demonstrates the importance of industry-university collaborations.

"There is a wealth of highly creative research within academic institutions," said Whyle. "Companies and universities should be encouraged to work together in win-win partnerships to bring innovative products to market."

Brent International has since merged with Chemetall, and together the joint company will market the new coatings and other surface treatment technologies.

Van Ooij's contributions have also earned recognition in the United States. The silane treatments won a 1999 R&D 100 Award, and previous research was recognized by the B.F. Goodrich Collegiate Inventors Program in 1997.

Currents students assisting in the research include Yuan Fu, Guru Prasad and Danqing Ziu, all pictured above.