Reporter 457, 23 October 2000

Business born from ceramics advances

Revolutionary materials and technological advances in electro-ceramics are to be exploited by a new company created as a spin-off from the materials department at the University.

Ecertec, launched with the first completed investment by the White Rose Technology Seedcorn Fund, will draw on the work of lecturer Dr Andrew Tavernor and research fellow Dr Tim Comyn, members of the departmentís electro-ceramics group.

Although the group is already well known in the materials industry and wins substantial consultancy funding, the creation of Ecertec will help it find new business opportunities, increase its intellectual property rights base and recruit more commercial expertise.

The Leeds researchers specialise in novel materials used in electronics applications, especially piezoelectric and electrostrictive materials, which can change shape in response to an applied voltage. This property makes them suitable for a wide variety of uses, ranging from switching lasers to inkjet printing and acoustics.

Ecertec will use these materials to design devices and systems tailor-made to customersí needs, while developing newer materials with improved performance. The companyís revenue will come from consultancy work, using the materials departmentís sophisticated analysis equipment, and from the manufacture, sale and licensing of its own inventions. Dr Tavernor said the company will initially concentrate on high-value, advanced materials rather than the high-volume, low-cost end of the market.

"Our groupís existing contracts and contacts show that there is a significant market opportunity here," he said. "The use of active materials is mushrooming and the demand for system integration consultancy is growing with it. Companies often turn to materials like electro-ceramics to update existing products or develop new ones ."

The White Rose fund was set up to help academics at the universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York create and build commercial ventures based on technology transfer arising from high-quality research.

Professor Chris Taylor, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for research, said: "The Ecertec stake is the first of many that White Rose is likely to take in projects now under development. This reflects the growth of entrepreneurial activity at Leeds and its sister universities."

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