University of Northern Iowa technology going commercial

Patented process may lower amount of fossil fuels used, officials said

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The University of Northern Iowa is joining forces with two Eastern Iowa companies to turn research into a commercial product.

And the combination of industrial microwaves and industrial-sized mixers could shake up the way industry processes food, chemicals and other substances.

The patented process comes from UNI’s National Ag-Based Lubricants Center in Waterloo. University officials say it has the potential to reduce the amount of fossil fuel companies used in processing industrial goods. The patented process can be used to heat, dry and blend food products, bio-based lubricants, chemicals and greases.

The university licensed the technology to Marion Mixers and Cedar Rapids-based AMTek Microwave systems to turn the process into commercial equipment.

Marion Mixers, started 75 years ago, designs and manufactures custom industrial processing equipment in use in 70 countries.

“This is a situation where there’s no one else in the world, that we know of, that’s making a commercially viable mixer-microwave combination,” said Doug Grudner, Marion Mixers co-owner.

His company, which employs 40, has built three microwave mixers since starting the intellectual-property agreement with UNI. One customer is a chemical company that is using the newly-designed microwave mixers to produce growth supplements. The other is an egg processor that has a contract to make powdered eggs for the military.

The Yokohama Tire Corp. of Japan already has one of the mixers and is using it to produce material used to make windshield wipers.

“The price of petroleum has gone up and it’s created more of a demand for bio-based products,” said Lou Honary, founding director of UNI’s National Ag-Based Lubricants Center. “Doing this kind of technology can help us reduce the manufacturing cost.”

Ron Padavich, UNI intellectual property officer, said he’s excited for what could happen as more companies learn of the alternatives.

“They’re already looking at other applications for it, so we think it has unlimited potential in the industry,” he said.

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