Keeping microbes, zebra mussels away Ecosystem
Keeping microbes, zebra mussels away
Only in dreams do zebra mussels have anything to do with implants for the brain — unless you’re Noah Snyder.
He’s now marketing a chemical compound that can both help ward off the invasive species and make medical devices safer.
The 28-year-old Mr. Snyder is president and CEO of Interphase Materials, a fledgling startup that has developed a chemical compound that can be added to coatings to repel microbes on medical and dental implants. Turns out it also works to stop metal corrosion, barnacles and zebra mussels, an invasive mollusk plaguing the Great Lakes.
The company was founded less than a year ago and is preparing to launch from AlphaLab Gear’s small business hatchery in East Liberty with a pilot study involving its product and a power-generating plant.
“It’s a small molecule, nontoxic chemical that stops attachment,” said Mr. Snyder, who is a native of Meadville, Crawford County. “It makes it really clean and a much better surface. And all our chemistry is done in water, which decreases product cost and holds down our expenses.”
Industrial coatings is a $22 billion market where metal corrosion is a relentless enemy. Corrosion is one of the leading causes of liquid and gas pipeline failure, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
A reminder of that came last week when, in a preliminary analysis, investigators found corrosion in at least two places on a Texas Eastern pipeline involved in an April 29 explosion in Salem, Westmoreland County. PHMSA said there was a “possible flaw in the coating material” that was applied to a weld joint of the 30-inch pipeline that exploded, injuring one person, damaging two houses and melting a road. The investigation is ongoing.
One potential use of Interphase Materials’ protective additive will be to restrict the ability of zebra mussels to stick to inlet pipes and power plant heat exchangers, where they form colonies and impede the flow of water.
The mollusk arrived in the United States in the late 1980s from the Caspian Sea in ship ballasts. Controlling the creatures in the Great Lakes costs $250 million annually, according to the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute.
Interphase Materials has a tank of zebra mussels used for testing at its East Liberty offices. The company also has a small chemical lab, a production plant of sorts, at Pitt’s Applied Research Center in Harmar.
Mr. Snyder and company co-founder Kasey Catt, a 28-year-old native of Mars, Butler County, weren’t thinking about mussels or metal corrosion when they met in 2010 at the University of Pittsburgh. At the time, both men were studying biotechnology and experimenting with antimicrobial coatings that could be used in brain and dental implants.
Mr. Snyder has a doctorate degree in bioengineering. Mr. Catt is defending his doctoral thesis in a few months.
A year ago, after a meeting at AlphaLab, Mr. Snyder said he and Mr. Catt began brainstorming about other uses for their compound when they hit upon industrial coatings. In addition to invasive mollusks, their product prevents algae, mold and fungus from adhering to pipes and water inlets, which would be valuable properties for shippers, power plant operators and others.
What isn’t yet known is how long the product lasts. Mr. Snyder said testing continues, and the company has received a contract with a big power plant to test its product over the summer. He declined to identify the plant.
“At first glance, it sounds like there would be a market for this,” said Allen Irish, senior counsel at the American Coatings Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group. “The entire coatings market is growing moderately, and it grows with construction and manufacturing.”
AlphaLab Gear Managing Director Ilana Diamond said early users of Interphase Materials’ product have had good results.
“Big companies with huge research departments and no solutions are buying from a startup — this says something,” she said. “They’ve had better results than anticipated from early shipments.”
“I think this is huge, really huge.”
Kris B. Mamula:email@example.com, or 412-263-1699