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Home > News > Turning Gold Dust Into Clean Air

March 20th, 2008

Turning Gold Dust Into Clean Air

Abstract:
At age 82, William Miller might be excused for kicking back, playing with grandkids or simply puttering around. He's doing none of those things. Instead, Miller is leading a start-up with two big ambitions: to clean up diesel emissions and to spread a new approach to designing a key ingredient in countless chemical reactions, namely catalysts.

"I like to be an explorer. This is an exploration," declares Miller.

And that approach--the exploration of both a new technology and of the opportunity for using that nascent tool--is at the core of genuine innovation.

Over the course of his 53-year career, Miller has been a computer scientist, chairman of a major software maker, an adviser to both venture capitalists and government leaders, and a teacher. These days, he is chairman and co-founder of Nanostellar, a four-year-old, 22-person start-up in Redwood City, Calif. Miller is too savvy to use the hyperbolic language common to most start-up founders. But he exudes quiet confidence that Nanostellar has a shot at making a genuine difference, both in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in changing commercial chemistry.

Nanostellar is developing novel chemical catalysts that promise big improvements over existing ingredients. The company's first product: fine powders of precious metals--gold, platinum and palladium--that when used to coat a filter for a diesel truck or car can reduce its toxic emissions by as much as 40% over existing catalytic converters. At Nanostellar's heart is a computer program that predicts how different compounds will work under specified conditions. Think of it as a design tool for chemists: "We have CAD-CAM tools for mechanical engineers, computer-aided design for circuit makers," says Pankaj Dhingra, Nanostellar's chief executive. "The impact our tool could have on the world of chemicals is absolutely humongous."

Source:
forbes.com

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