The Office of Commercialization has awarded 10 Washington State University researchers with the Commercialization Gap Fund (CGF). The CGF supports research projects with high market potential and provides researchers up to $40,000 to booster their ability to make an economic impact on society. The CGF is funded by a generous donation from the Washington Research Foundation with matching funds from the Office of Commercialization.

“The innovations of this year’s awardees demonstrate near market-ready technologies with the potential to improve lives and enhance the economies of the state of Washington, the nation, and the world,” said Sita Pappu, assistant vice president for the Office of Commercialization within the Office of Research. “Funding from the Commercialization Gap Fund will bridge the gap between research in the laboratory and market-ready commercialization.”

The CGF is intended to be the final funding step for near-market technologies. Funds will be distributed using a milestone-drive process with stipulated goals reached before the next funding increment is approved.

Since the re-establishment of the program in 2014, the CGF has awarded more than $3 million in funding to 62 projects. These projects include technologies with 16 issued patents, 41 provisional patents filed, two trademarks filed, and four copyrights filed. Additionally, 17 of the technologies have signed licensing deals with outside companies and 19 start-up companies have been formed. The gap funding support resulted in $10.5 million follow-on funding for these technologies.

The 2021 CGF awardees and their projects are:

• Bernard Van Wie, “Centrifugal Fluidized Expansion (CentriFLEX) Bioreactor for Providing Clinically Significant Numbers of Cancer-Fighting T-Cells for Immunotherapy:” Van Wie has developed a centrifugal fluidized expansion (CentriFLEX) bioreactor that can be used to speed up cancer immunotherapy manufacture. Funding will help Van Wie focus on reducing the footprint of the CentriFLEX to increase likelihood of adoption in cancer research centers and clinics.

• Vikram Yadama, “Thermally Modified Composite Wood-Strand Panels (TCSWSP) for Flooring and Siding:” Yadama’s research will study how thermally modified wood strands can be integrated into strand-based composite technology resulting in high-performance building construction products with longer service-lives and improved performance suitable for exterior and interior applications where they can be exposed to high humidity for extended periods of time.

• Amit Dhingra, “Field Evaluation of Fruit Quality with Glycine Betaine:” The patented innovation is the novel use of glycine betaine, a natural certified organic plant metabolite, as a pre-harvest or at harvest technology to delay the development of pear fruit. To enable commercial-scale application, there is a need for farm-scale replicated trials. Funding will enable the collection of generation farm-level data and market adoption.

• Hongfei Lin, “A Novel Sequential Catalytic Solvolysis Process for Deconstructing Waste Plastics:” Lin’s research will build a demo process for the cost-effective deconstruction of the comingled waste plastics streams through the novel sequential catalytic solvolysis process. The process is an emerging technology developed at WSU for the selective deconstruction of an individual polymer or classes of polymers in a polymer mixture with homogeneous or heterogeneous catalysts stage-by-stage under mild conditions, to produce monomers, chemicals, and hydrocarbon fuels or lubricants. Funding will provide a techno-economic analysis of the process, a detailed commercialization business plan, and sufficient technology and marketing data to drive patent licensing.

• John Peters, “Tailored Associations to Transfer Ammonia from the Model Associative Diazotroph Azotobacter Vinelandii to Crop Plants:” The invention involves generating tailored associations between ammonia excreting bacteria and specific crops through manipulation of the carbon and nitrogen metabolism of Azotobacter vinelandii. Peters will modify the carbon metabolism of the existing patented ammonia excreting strains to preferentially metabolize key root exudate compounds of important crops varieties and conditionally excrete ammonia in response to these root exudate compounds.

• Anurag Srivastava, “Tools for Keeping Your Power On During Extreme Events:” Power system operators struggle to keep the power on during extreme events caused by bad weather or cyber-attack, and advanced tools are needed to help them in keeping your power on. Srivastava will develop software tools for predictive power outage management and decision support during extreme events.

• Mona Ghandi, “Improving Mental Health and Well-Being Using an Interactive Therapeutic Booth and Real-Time Monitoring Emotions:” Ghandi has developed a machine learning algorithm that uses biological data collected by a smartwatch to detect emotions in real-time. The innovation is a full-scale therapeutic interactive booth that can change its form, color, and music in response to user’s emotions in real-time to lower anxiety and stress levels and improve user’s mental health. Funding will help researchers build a full-scale booth that is ready for licensing and marketing.

• Lav Knot, “Novel Reservoir Based Pneumatic Solid Set Canopy Delivery System for Perennial Specialty Crops:” Knot has developed and optimized components of a novel fixed spray system that improves pesticide application efficiency and reduces spray drift typical with conventional airblast spraying. Funding will aid in commercializing the technology to produce better management of fresh market perennial specialty crops and help reduce losses that typically range between 30-50%.

• Bhagwat Prasad, “Development of a Dry Blood Spot Assay Kit for Quantification of Carboxylated Proteins:” This research will develop a sensitive assay utilizing dry-blood spot coupled with mass spectrometry for simultaneous quantification of gramma-glutamyl carboxylated proteins in a drop of blood. The quantification of the carboxylated proteins is important for ensuring the safety of anti-coagulant therapy and for the diagnosis of vitamin K-dependent diseases, such as liver cancers and COVID-19-associated coagulopathy.

• Feng Zhao, “Metal Oxide Heterojunction Based High-Efficiency Photovoltaic Cells:” Zhao has developed an innovative technology to improve the solar energy conversion efficiency of metal oxide solar cells to be comparable to Si solar cells with a much lower cost and no requirement of costly manufacture facilities.

To apply to the Office of Commercialization’s annual Gap Fund program, applicants must submit a letter of intent and a pre-proposal. An internal committee selects the top pre-proposals. The top applicants are then invited to present in front of an external committee. Individual awards of up to $40,000 are given. Funds are available to clarify market needs, refine a value proposition, and decrease technical risk through prototyping.