Senior analyst at Lux Research Inc., Murray McCutcheon, talks to AZoM about innovations in materials science and exciting emerging technologies. Interview conducted by Gary Thomas.
GT: Could you please give a brief overview of Lux Research and the industry that it works within?
MM: At Lux Research, we help our clients capitalize on science-driven innovation, identifying new business opportunities from emerging technologies in the physical sciences. We provide both technology monitoring and global market intelligence to support better business decisions across a wide spectrum of industries, including chemicals and materials, energy, electronics, automotive, infrastructure and cities, food and nutrition, healthcare, and biotech.
GT: How is Lux Research unique in its field?
MM: We believe understanding the commercial potential of technologies requires a deep technical understanding combined with business analysis. To that end, a majority of our team holds advanced degrees in science or engineering.
We source our intelligence from direct interaction with CEOs and top executives at cutting-edge technology firms. We conduct over 4,000 interviews annually with company executives, management, customers, partners, and outside experts.
Furthermore, Lux Research has global reach, with over 75 employees in Boston, New York, Amsterdam, Singapore, Seoul, and Tokyo, as well as a Shanghai-based team dedicated to coverage of China innovation.
GT: Lux has recently released its Top 10 Innovative Companies for the third quarter of 2012 – could you please tell us more about what you look for in a company when you decide on this?
MM: In calling out our Top 10 innovators, we look for a combination of innovative technology and commercial potential. Companies that are standouts on both fronts are poised for success and we would classify as “Strong Positive” or “Positive”. More often, however, we will scout an emerging start-up that is lacking in some capacity. For example, it could have a transformative technology but be lacking in business execution or facing long timelines to adoption. Conversely, some have superb market channels and execution despite only average technical merit. The Lux Take on these firms, such as Solexel or Clear Jet, is a “Wait-and-see”, but they can present compelling opportunities to companies looking for partnership, investment, or acquisition targets.
GT: Could you give an overview of Lux’s subscription intelligence and the components of this?
MM: Our intelligence helps clients make sense of the business and technology landscape in targeted sectors. Each advisory service provides:
- Technology scouting reports with Company Profiles and Analyst Insights. Over 250 companies are briefed annually by each service.
- State of the Market Reports with technology and market overviews, market forecasts, financing outlook, and key technology and adoption issues
- On-demand Analyst Inquiry with Lux Research Analysts
Based on unique expertise in emerging technologies, Lux Research also tailors consulting to client’s specific needs, focusing on:
- Technology Roadmapping
- Market Identification and Assessment
- Partner Search and Selection
- Pre-transaction Search and Due Diligence
GT: In your opinion, which emerging technologies in the materials sector are the most exciting?
MM: Carbon-based innovations continue to be at the forefront of innovation covered by our Advanced Materials team, including graphene and low cost production of carbon fiber. We also see exciting developments in 3D printing and near net-shape manufacturing in general, sheet magnesium, and multifunctional materials, which are the combination of standard reinforcements and nanomaterial additives in host polymer/metal matrices to affect mechanical, electrical, thermal, and functional properties.
GT: Has the discovery of graphene changed the focus of materials customers?
MM: A more apt way of wording this might be to say that graphene has broadened the focus of both material developers and material users. It has long been touted as a wunderkind nanomaterial, but thus far there is no strong indication that it will be able to avoid the hype—commercial disappointment cycle that has plagued multi-wall carbon nanotubes (MWNTs). What will be particularly interesting to watch is if graphene developers pay heed to the trials and tribulations experienced by their carbon cousin brethren – such as oversupply, lack of a secure customer base and significant development partners, and a difficult price/performance proposition over incumbent “good enough” materials – and learn from them in order to accelerate commercial adoption.
GT: Is the demand for REEs in new emerging technologies sustainable?
MM: Certainly rare earth supply constraints are of deep concern to technology developers who rely on these elements for high-performance magnets. The push for reduced rare-earth usage is an issue taking hold throughout the automotive industry, especially as motors become bigger and more powerful as higher levels of electrification come on the market, whether it's in hybrid vehicles like the Prius, full electrics like the Nissan Leaf, or various types in between.
As a result, there is tremendous interest in new technologies that promise reduction, or even outright elimination, of rare-earth materials in electric motors (such as Controlled Power Technologies that we highlighted in our Top 10 list from Q1 2012). Recently, Toyota announced a program to recover neodymium from used motors and electronic devices, and Honda is also pursuing rare-earth recycling technology.
Note that much of the concern relates less to their absolute scarcity than to geopolitical machinations. These efforts clearly reflect larger concerns over the Chinese domination of rare-earth supply, and would enable some relief from heavy reliance on Chinese policy that strongly controls the supply coming out of China.
What can be done to increase the energy efficiency of buildings?
MM: It is well known that buildings consume about 40% of our energy and produce about 40% of carbon dioxide, so building efficiency is at the core of climate and energy challenges.Building energy efficiency is one of the lowest hanging fruits with potential for immediate payback. As covered in our Sustainable Building Materials service, more effective thermal envelope design to minimize solar heat gain and maximize passive cooling and ventilation are essential.
Emerging technologies include electrochromic windows to minimize solar heat gain, enthalpy recovery membranes to minimize air conditioning system losses, and daylighting films and louvers to maximize natural daylight.
The effective use of building energy management systems comprised of sensors, controls, and software can make building operation more efficient by more effectively matching loads to occupant behavior. Moreover, the impending LED wave will completely transform building lighting within the next decade, dramatically reducing wasted energy, increasing opportunity for networked control (such as from Metrolight), and reducing parasitic heat loads that must be removed by the building HVAC system. Technologies and companies in this sphere are covered by our Efficient Building Systems service.
One of the main obstacles to improved efficiency is the presence of market dislocations between builders, owners, and occupants who have different incentives in terms of upfront cost and ongoing energy savings. This topic is a hotbed of activity, including green leases and energy financing innovations to help solve some of these market barriers.
GT: Has there been a shift towards sustainability in emerging companies in recent years?
MM: Across our 15 coverage areas, Lux Research focuses on key global megatrends that include sustainable energy and infrastructure, and sustainable health and wellness.These megatrends are global, tidal forces that are shaping the landscape of innovation. Although some might decry the cleantech era as a sustainability bubble that has burst, this combines a relatively narrow definition with a purely venture capital-focused business model.
As a broader concept, sustainability is on the agenda of every Fortune 500 corporation and needs to be a consideration of every innovator hoping to make a lasting impact. That said, platitudes and airy language do not a business maketh. The successful emerging companies will be those that bring a compelling solution to solve a clear pain point, with a laser-focused business strategy and a team able to execute.