LANSING — Niowave Inc. dedicated its $10 million expansion facility on Tuesday, July 3.
On hand to speak at the dedication were both of Michigan’s United States senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, along with Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, the chief of naval research at the Office of Naval Research, and Michigan State Univeristy Provost Kim Wilcox.
The facility will be a research and development site for commercial superconducting particle accelerators. Niowave is developing a superconducting electron accelerator for the US Navy free electron laser program, and is adapting this technology for use in producing medical radioisotopes.
Niowave founder and president Terry Grimm began the ceremony with a brief overview of the future of superconducting technology.
“Henry Ford did not invent the automobile, and Bill Gates did not invent the computer — but both were visionaries that changed the world with their respective technologies,” Grimm said. “Niowave is advancing the superconducting accelerator technologies developed at the national labs for commercial purposes, much like Space-X has made NASA technology commercially viable.”
Sen. Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, described how Niowave is an example of how high-tech manufacturing continues to transform our economy.
A Free Electron Laser is created by converting the kinetic energy of a high-energy electron beam into high-energy laser light. The Navy is developing the FEL to complement existing anti-missile ship self-defense systems.
Klunder said technology is key to maintaining America’s defense edge on its foes.
On the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, Klunder noted that “we were up against a pretty formidable foe. How do you think we beat them? Innovation. The design and technology of our ships.”
And a free electron laser, he said, could be a real game changer in terms of defending our ships and our shores. “Lasers have no big missile, no projectile,” he said. “All I’m shooting is energy. That means my magazine is endless. You can send whatever you want against us, and I’m going to keep shooting until I take it down.”
Klunder also said he was impressed with Niowave because it’s able to produce such high technology at such a reasonable cost, and because “half of your work force is under 30.”
The same technology that creates a high-power electron beam for the Navy’s free electron laser can be used to produce medical radioisotopes. Medical radioisotopes are used for imaging and therapies across the world. Over 90 percent of the medical radioisotopes used in North America last year were produced in Canada as a by-product of nuclear reactors. Niowave is developing a medical radioisotope production machine based on a superconducting accelerator that does not require a nuclear reactor.
Niowave is collaborating with some of the world’s experts in radioisotopes from the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory at Michigan State University, where a $600 million Facility for Rare Isotope Beams is also on the drawing board.
“Medical radioisotopes are a direct commercial application of the F-RIB technology,” Wilcox said. “The commercial economic impact from medical radioisotopes is complementary and an economic multiplier from the F-RIB project.”
Stabenow, a longtime supporter of accelerator technology, said “medical radioisotopes generate $1 billion annually, and the industry is growing. Niowave is creating jobs here in Michigan with this new technology. Combining the commercial successes at Niowave with the research at MSU/F-RIB, Michigan has established itself as the center for this cutting-edge technology around the world.”
Stabenow also noted that the research has agricultural applications in the sterliziation of food products.
Closing out the ceremony, Niowave COO Jerry Hollister unveiled a dedication plaque similar to the dedication plaque from the original Walnut Street School.
“Plaques are markers of significant events,” Hollister said. “This expansion is a significant event for the superconducting accelerator industry. It is a demonstration that this technology is no longer a cool science experiment — it is a viable business opportunity with an unbounded future.”
Hollister and Grimm said Niowave was established in mid-Michigan to benefit from the region’s highly skilled work force. The advanced manufacturing expertise from the auto industry combined with the scientific capability of this region has allowed Niowave to quickly grow into a world-wide leader in superconducting accelerator technology. Named the 2010 Small Business of the Year for the Department of Energy, Niowave is the only company in the world operating a superconducting accelerator in its own plant.
More at www.niowaveinc.com.