In just one hour enough solar energy comes to Earth to power the globe for a year. Dr. Felipe Chibante says organic photovoltaic (OPV) technology, using fullerenes, offers options to create fibres made from these active materials so clothes, curtains and even the roof of a car can be made harness solar power. Fullerenes are a molecular form of pure carbon with soccer ball-like structures. They are also the key ingredient in OPV devices due to the high capacity to accept electrons.
Dr Chibante has a wealth of experience in the research and commercialization of nanomaterials with the creation of four technology companies since 1994. As a serial entrepreneur, he has comprehensive experience in all elements of technology commercialisation, such as intellectual property, international import/export, customer partnering, government support, and mentoring. Dr. Chabante's work has had a direct impact on two of NBIF's portfolio companies: Smart Skin Technologies and Atlantic Hydrogen.
His technical background is demonstrated in over 70 journal, conference and book publications with seven patents issued and pending. Dr Chibante currently serves as the Currie Research Chair in Nanotechnology at University of New Brunswick as well as Research Director of NanoTex Corporation based in Houston, TX and CEO of NanoNB Corp, in Fredericton, Canada. He has on-going collaborations with Rice University, NASA, US Department of Defense and Laboratories in the US, Europe and Japan and is well connected within the Atlantic Canada business network, with global connections in nanotechnology markets.
NBIF: What was your inspiration to invent new things using nano-carbons?
Chibante: My professor, Richard Smalley, discovered carbon structures that were not in the common forms. Carbon is usually in graphite sheets or three-dimensional networks called diamonds. With a background primarily in chemistry I was very involved experimenting to see how we can use chemical methods to refine it. Over time we started to find applications for this. One of them, which has been on the forefront for a while now, is solar cell applications.
NBIF: What do you find the most fulfilling aspect of your work?
Chibante: For me it’s nice to think of something and have it happen, whether that is if I put two things together and am expecting a certain property and something unknown happens in the lab or if I can put a proposal together and get it funded and other people can share in that vision. The creativity part of my work is fulfilling and future research would be interesting. The fulfilling part is the fulfillment of the creative process. It’s just like gardening in that you can plant seeds and nurture them and something comes up. I love that process.
NBIF: If you could create any future for your life’s work what would it be?
Chibante: would love to enter neuron brain research. I think what happens is you’re getting down to the same essence of materials as what goes on in your own brain. I am interested in bridging the bio world with the man- made world. I see man-made components, not meaning robots, but more from a materials perspective. I would love to get into biomaterials. This could be five or 10 years down the road but I believe there is a rich opportunity there in terms of new research to be done. As you learn more about what makes us learn you realize the capacity we have. Twenty-five per cent of energy we use is to power this organ of our brain, not to move our muscles, so what’s taking so much energy? What is happening at a fundamental level? As we are talking about taking the sun and getting an electron to move so that we can power a battery I am wondering what is chemically happening that when an electron travels you remember something from your childhood or you get a message that says it’s time to eat. I am not a biologist by training but I would love to open that world for investigation.