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Touching The Lives Of Billions Worldwide: Lead Free Solder

A lead free solder, developed at Ames Laboratory by Iver Anderson, John Smith, Chad Miller, and Robert Terpstra with a co-inventor, Frederick Yost, at Sandia National Laboratory, combines tin, silver and copper in a novel alloy combination that is low melting, applies easily on typical metal joints, and has a reasonable cost, serving as a direct (no-cost) swap in the industrial setting. This revolutionary solder alloy replaces many uses of the traditional tin-lead, low-melting solder, reducing further the number of lead toxicity hazards in our everyday environment.

The use of leaded solder has a 5000-year history.  There are examples of its use in Mycenae from about 1500-1300 BC, during the Roman Empire and in Denmark around 800AD.  Modern electronic assembly uses solder to attach electronic chips and components to printed wiring boards to create an electronic assembly which are joined to form functional systems like cellular phones, computers or televisions.  The Ames Laboratory solder alloy formula is now considered a preferred lead-free solder by the worldwide electronics assembly industry and can be found in many new consumer electronic items, including cell phones, laptops, TVs, and VCRs.

The technology’s initial two patents, (5,527,628 and 6,231,691) were licensed to a small business, Johnson Manufacturing, Princeton, IA.  To extend the availability of the solder, two other licensees, Multicore Solders of Richardson, Texas (now Henkel Corporation), and Nihon Superior Co. Ltd. of Osaka Japan, also obtained licenses to the technology.  A Japanese industry-based consortium set up a voluntary initiative to go lead-free in consumer electronics beginning in 2000, spurring a widespread movement in this direction.  Subsequent legislation enacted by the European Union to eliminate most of the lead in consumer goods sold in Europe by July of 2006 resulted in more broad licensing interest.  As a result, the technology was sublicensed to over 65 companies worldwide.  The patents have now expired, but Ames' lead-free solder continues to be used in virtually all electronics worldwide.

Federal funding through the Department of Energy was provided for the basic research and technology development of the solder.  DOE funding developed the metal and alloy powder production capability, the eutectic tin-silver-copper composition, joint microstructure and properties studies, and alloy additions for resistance to thermal aging.  The Laboratory’s Contractor, Iowa State University Research Foundation, and Nihon Superior provided development funds.  Ongoing product development continues to try to improve drop impact strength, thermal aging, and thermal fatigue resistance; two patent applications on improvements were filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office in 2010 and 2013.

Virtual Engineering Tools Provided the Foundation for Improved
Management Decisions Tools for the Agriculture Industry

Ames Laboratory’s VE-Suite’s library of tools, an open-source software, provided the background and expertise needed for AgSolver, Inc., a startup company located in Ames, IA, to create and market LEAF (Landscape Environmental Assessment Framework) application tools.  VE-Suite tools were developed by
K. Mark Bryden, Doug McCorkle, Aaron Bryden and other team members at Ames Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory.  Mark Bryden’s team won 3 R&D 100 awards for tools developed for VE-Suite.

Doug McCorkle is a co-founder of AgSolver and currently holds the position of Senior Vice President of Operations. Dr. McCorkle’s research at the Ames Laboratory focused on using diverse data streams within the engineering process to create virtualized systems that enable engineers to make well-informed decisions. At AgSolver, the open-source tools developed during that research are being deployed for training simulators, interactive design environments, and agronomic decision services products.

The AgSolver core environmental process engine determines a broad range of land performance characteristics at a high resolution that deliver market specific services to customers.  AgSolver’s agronomic decision service products improve land management decisions, and simplify mandatory compliance and reporting activities. Their technology uses readily available precision agriculture data including yield maps, soil sample data, and fertilizer application data, in combination with simulation tools to guide better management decisions. The technology uses these datasets with some simple inputs about the management practices for an operation to provide valuable insights at a high resolution 30 foot scale such as: profit projections for a field over 50 years of actual climate conditions, 10 – 30 year projections of key soil productivity metrics including organic matter and erosion scale, and nitrogen use efficiency. The coupled data management and simulation technology also supports high resolution conservation planning. By integrating this technology with a secure cloud computing framework AgSolver’s applications can provide these improved decisions within minutes.

Creating Efficiency in Titanium Parts Production.

Titanium’s strength, light weight, biocompatibility and resistance to corrosion make it ideal for use in a variety of parts — from components for artificial limbs like those used by wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to military vehicle components, biomedical implants, and aerospace fasteners. But, working with titanium can be difficult when casting parts because molten titanium tends to react with the materials used for machine molds. Using a gas atomization process (which makes a fine, spherical powder form of titanium) manufacturers can then press the powder together at high temperatures.  The process is ten times more efficient than traditional powder-making methods thereby significantly lowering the cost of the powder to manufacturers. Utilizing titanium powder has the benefits of conserving processing time and energy, and it produces less waste material. 

To make titanium powder, titanium metal is melted using a standard commercial process, then it is heated and precisely guided by an Ames Laboratory-patented pour tube into a high-intensity atomization nozzle, also patented at Ames Laboratory. The metal is then sprayed out in a fine droplet mist. Each droplet quickly cools and solidifies, creating a collection of many tiny spheres, forming fine titanium powder.  Inventors of the nozzle or pour tube are Iver Anderson, Robert Terstra, Matt Besser, Daniel Sordelet, Joel Rieken of Ames Laboratory and Alan Hartman, Edward Argetsinger, Jeffrey Hansen, Jake Paige, Paul Turner of the Albany Research Center.

The Laboratory’s patents were exclusively licensed to Iowa Powder Atomization Technologies (IPAT), Ames, IA, a start-up company founded by two former Ames Laboratory employees, Joel Rieken and Andy Heidloff.  Iowa Powder Atomization Technologies was one of three winners of the Department of Energy’s America’s Next Top Energy Innovator Challenge in 2012. The challenge recognizes some of the most innovative and promising startup companies that took an option to license DOE-funded technologies.  IPAT also won the 2012 John Pappajohn Iowa Business Plan Competition, honoring top business plans of companies in business for four years or less, with an aim of stimulating business development.  In 2014, IPAT was acquired by Praxair, a Fortune 250 company and one of the world’s largest producers of gases and surface coatings.  In 2015, Praxair announced they had begun to market titanium powder.