Dendritech Secures $500,000 Grant for Zebra Mussel Work


Aug. 4, 2005

(MIDLAND) - A group of local scientists is tackling the zebra mussel problem in a project that also has far-reaching commercial potential.

Midland-based Dendritech, Inc., the world leader in commercial dendrimer production, was notified last week that it has been awarded a two-year $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue its research on a coating that will repel zebra mussels from the exteriors of boats, inlet piping and other water-bound structures. The grant is part of the federal government’s Small Business Innovative Research program, and this SBIR funding is Phase II money, particularly difficult to obtain and indicative of an elevated level of faith in the research on the NSF’s behalf.m

Lead scientists on the project are Dr. Petar Dvornic and Dr. Claire Hartmann-Thompson, who will work with a host of other organizations as the science is refined in the next phase of the project.

“The zebra mussel, as well as other bio-fouling organisms, poses a serious problem in fresh water, and barnacles do the same in sea water,” Hartmann-Thompson said. “We set out to develop a coating that will discourage those organisms from settling on boats, water inlet pipes and other such structures in the water.

“In the past,” Hartmann-Thompson added, “there have been anti-biofouling paints that worked to some degree, but they were loaded with harmful compounds that could leach out and pollute the water, and those paints were taken off the market. Our solution will offer an effective, environmentally-friendly alternative that will successfully and safely repel the organisms.”

With the dendritic coating, she said, anti-biofouling compounds are trapped within the coating’s nanostructure, allowing them to serve their purpose without escaping and polluting the environment.

Dvornic said this project is particularly exciting because it strikes close to home, and because it has serious commercial potential.

“Is there a boat-owner anywhere in the Great Lakes region who wouldn’t like to have an environmentally-safe method of ridding his boat of these creatures that build up on the hull?” Dvornic said. “Another problem posed by these organisms is they clog water inlet pipes. We’re hoping this dendritic coating can solve a lot of problems for a lot of people.”

Phase II will involve scientists from several different organizations, including Michigan Molecular Institute, which is serving as a subcontractor on the project; Gougeon Brothers, a Bay City-based company that is one of the nation’s leading manufacturers of boat hull resins; Central Michigan University; and the Sea Education Association, which will conduct work on the salt water portion of the research. The SEA is based in Woods Hole, Mass.

“The ripple effects of this research could also be significant,” Dvornic said. “Think about the impact this could have on drinking water, if we can make the process of water collection more efficient and safer. This coating could also significantly curtail the spread of these organisms; every time a boater goes from one lake to the next, he’s transporting different species of these organisms to different locations. This coating could stop that.”

Additionally, Dvornic said, the Dendritech solution could have far-reaching implications for U.S. military watercraft. It could eliminate formation of the organism deposits, which have been shown to reduce vessel speeds by up to 20 percent, thus negatively affecting maneuverability, fuel consumption and overall efficiency.

The SBIR program is administered by 10 federal agencies to help provide early-stage Research & Development funding to small technology companies like Dendritech, one of Michigan Molecular Institute’s two local spinout companies. Solicitations are released periodically from each of the 10 agencies and small companies - defined as having fewer than 500 employees - are invited to compete for funding by submitting innovative proposals addressing the technical needs of the solicitation.

Dendritech, Inc. is a privately-held company established in 1992 whose main focus is the manufacture and sale of specialty dendrimers. Its operations include a 10-acre multi-million dollar manufacturing plant located in Eastwick Industrial Park in Midland, Mich. For more information about Dendritech, call 989.496.1152.