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Success Stories at PNNL

Select a category below to find Client Success Stories that demonstrate how PNNL unites expertise, innovation, and collaborative partnerships to create a meaningful impact. You'll also find more customer success stories on YouTube...

Collaborative Research

Global mass spectrometer company reaps the benefits of long-term partnership

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The relationship between PNNL and Agilent Technologies dates back to the Agilent's inception in 1999 as a spin-out of Hewlett-Packard. Since then, the collaboration has been a critical and ongoing part of new product development for Agilent, a company that develops cutting edge analytical instrumentation and methodologies for engineers, scientists, and researchers around the globe to meet communications, electronics, life sciences, and chemical analysis challenges.

Through several collaborative research projects over the years, Agilent and PNNL have shared a common focus on advancing the state of the art in the measurement industry in terms of not only instrumentation, but also methodologies and software. One important goal for Agilent as an industry leader was to find new ways to address the most important aspect of mass spectrometry-the ability to achieve trace-level analysis. To do so requires the utmost in instrument sensitivity.

Agilent had found what they were looking for in PNNL's award-winning ion funnel technology, which vastly improves ion transmission in mass spectrometry, thus improving detection and measurement capabilities. The company has been able to achieve factors-of-10 greater sensitivity with this technology. And in 2010, Agilent introduced a new mass spectrometer incorporating dual ion funnel technology- the 6490 Triple Quadrupole LC/MS. This new device achieves unprecedented sensitivity in part by including dual ion funnel technology, designed to dramatically increase the number of ions that enter a mass spectrometer.

Today, Agilent continues to collaborate with researchers at PNNL and expand the scope of their research and development to solve emerging challenges posed by the scientific community.


  • 2004 Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer
  • 1999 R&D 100 Award

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Mentorship yields tangible results for Ag-focused business

UNIBEST Corporation provides farmers, agribusinesses, and environmental managers with monitoring products to optimize crop management and evaluate environmental contamination. The relationship between PNNL and UNIBEST dates back to 2000 when the company first received technical support through the PNNL Economic Development Office's (EDO) Technology Assistance Program (TAP), along with informal entrepreneurial advice.

In 2010, a new president took the helm at UNIBEST and contacted the Laboratory for assistance through EDO's Mentor-Protégé Program (MPP) with two goals in mind: 1) transform the organization and its infrastructure to better meet customer demands and respond to new markets, and 2) find a CPA with direct knowledge of high tech small businesses.

Prior to working with the MPP-assigned mentor, UNIBEST had been participating in a series of academic studies to keep its patents and technology visible to colleges and universities. The objectives for the mentorship included a review of the company's business plan and refinement of its strategies, which helped them determine that a commercial approach would be more lucrative, especially when introducing new patents.

Based on the mentor's suggestions, UNIBEST developed and implemented a tactical marketing plan within the agricultural market focused on developing strategic relationships with key agricultural organizations. The decision to take a commercial approach resulted in additional marketing and commercialization partners such as Winfield Solutions-a Land O'Lakes Company.

UNIBEST's mentor also helped the company select a third-party accounting firm that has helped refine financial aspects of the company's business plan, resulting in reallocation of how dollars associated with new patents are applied within the organization.

UNIBEST credits advice received through the MPP for its success over the past year. Income from 2010 to 2011 increased by over 800%-growth UNIBEST attributes to the down selection of target markets and a fresh, focused approach to its business plan.

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Technology Assistance

Technical advancements lead to SBIR Phase II grant

Abrasive-waterjet technology uses high-pressure water to create an extremely concentrated force to cut hard materials such as stainless steel, titanium, glass, and granite. When OMAX Corp. was established in 1993, it was the company's objective to harness state-of-the-art technologies to make high-pressure abrasivejet machining practical, affordable, and easy to use.

OMAX's successful relationship with PNNL began in 2007 when they applied and were approved for a Technology Assistance Program (TAP) project. The company has since completed several TAP projects with the most recent focusing on its abrasive-waterjet system. This TAP project resulted in PNNL recommending and demonstrating improved test methods for evaluating very-near-surface hardness related to cutting methods, which provided tools demonstrating the advantages of micro abrasive-waterjet technology in comparison to laser and electrical discharge machining operations. The improvements paved the way for the application and subsequent win of a $450K National Science Foundation SBIR Phase II grant.

Phase II funding is being used to further advance OMAX's waterjet technology for developing abrasive waterjet nozzles as a versatile and cost-effective tool. OMAX will collaborate with PNNL to demonstrate the capability and merits of abrasive-waterjet micro-meso machining, including development of micro abrasive-waterjet (mAWJ) technology for automated machining features between 50 - 100 micrometers that also addresses nozzle clogging-a technical challenge that can frequently occur at this size.

Thus far, the PNNL TAP projects with OMAX have also resulted in publication of three peer-reviewed conference/journal papers which the company believes will help raise awareness of waterjet technology as a versatile and cost-effective tool for a broad range of machining applications such as fatigue-critical parts for aerospace and medical implants. Subsequent use of the publications' contents in a book entitled "Micromachining" may also contribute to increased market share for OMAX products, an impact the company would anticipate seeing within two to five years.

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Technology Transfer

Biomass gasification licensed for international markets

Under appropriate conditions, algae can grow extremely fast while absorbing carbon dioxide via photosynthesis. Another benefit is that algae production can use land and water not suitable for food crops, and the methane produced as a fuel to generate renewable electricity can use the existing natural gas infrastructure as a fuel to generate renewable electricity - a desirable outcome for gasification companies, utilities, and the electricity-consuming public.

Genifuel Corp, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, develops equipment to make renewable methane from wet organic material. Suspecting that large quantities of wet biomass could be efficiently gasified to methane, the company sought out a catalytic wet gasification process developed by PNNL researchers. In 2008 Genifuel applied for a Technology Assistance Program (TAP) project to work with the PNNL research team, utilize Laboratory equipment to test various water plants including algae, and compare the results to terrestrial biomass through a process known as Catalytic Hydrothermal Gasification (CHG). CHG uses a wet process catalyzed to yield rapid and almost complete conversion of the biomass, producing a clean renewable fuel as the end product. This process operates at much lower temperatures than other gasification methods, making the construction and operation of the equipment easier and less costly.

The CHG technology was licensed domestically by Genifuel in 2009 for a specific list of feedstocks; in 2011, Genifuel contracted to extend the license to all international countries covered by the patents. The international license allows the company to pursue the same opportunities overseas that it previously only had license coverage for in the U.S. 

Today, Genifuel is pursuing the international market due to an increasing number of inquiries from outside the United States-mostly from Europe and Asia-aimed at biofuel technology. Since receiving the international license, a number of promising leads for designing machines of various sizes to process a wide range of feedstocks have been generated in Europe.

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