Production costs cut from $1000 to $100 a pound; Lou Gehrig's disease and antioxidants are targets
DALLAS, March 30 -- Buckyballs, the soccer-ball-shaped carbon molecules that have been a scientific intrigue since they were first identified in 1985, may just have gotten their first commercial break. The problem of high cost and low availability now seems to be partially solved, according to J. M. Alford of TDA Research, Inc. in Wheat Ridge, Colo. His work was reported here today at a national meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Alford's group has designed a new machine that can reduce the cost and increase the amount of buckyballs -- formally called fullerenes -- available to researchers. Presently, Alford says, fullerenes are made in China and Russia by a labor-intensive carbon-arc process that puts the market price at $1000 to $2000 a pound. By using a continuous combustion process instead, Alford's group has reduced the cost to $100 - $200 a pound, and can make a pound per day. And when a commercial application does develop, he says his machine can be easily scaled up to increase the output to a ton or more a day, hence reducing the cost even more.
Alford suggests that the first commercial use of fullerenes -- which won their discoverers the Nobel Prize in 1996 -- may be in the medical field. He cites work that shows the fullerenes can be made into antioxidants that are "much more potent than vitamin E." He also points to work with fullerene antioxidants at the Washington University Medical School in St. Louis on ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, but cautions that clinical trials there are still a year or more away.
A nonprofit organization with a membership of more than 155,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society publishes scientific journals, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.
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