Red-light-emitting quantum dots could soon help greenhouse growers improve crop yields, thanks in part to a new $350,000 investment in Los Alamos-based startup Ubiquitous Quantum Dots.
UbiQD announced the investment today from Breakout Labs, a San Francisco-based fund set up by the the Thiel Foundation to provide early-stage financing to companies taking new, hard-science-based technologies to market. It’s the first funding commitment by Breakout Labs for a New Mexico company.
“Research development from scientists-turned-entrepreneurs is often under-supported when it comes to commercialization,” said Breakout Labs Executive Director Lindy Fishburne. “We want to help fill this void by providing companies like UbiQD with funding and business support.”
UbiQD will use the money to equip some greenhouses in New Mexico and possibly neighboring states with red-light-emitting quantum dots as pilot projects to demonstrate their ability to improve crop growth, said UbiQD founder and CEO Hunter McDaniel. It also will pay for needed equipment, manufacturing, and continued product development of things like quantum-dot-coated windows for solar electric generation.
“We’re signing up greenhouse pilot projects now,” McDaniel said. “We’ll use Breakout Labs’ money to scale up in-house manufacturing to supply those pilots.”
UbiQD launched in 2014 to fully develop and market a proprietary process for manufacturing quantum dots with technology licensed from Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Quantum dots are tiny, three-dimensional structures measuring about 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. The structures manipulate light in unique ways, absorbing it and emitting it back out in different colors. They’re used in everything from transistors and sunscreen to LCD televisions, tablets and smart phones. But traditionally, they’ve been extremely expensive to make, and they’re usually composed of toxic materials.
UbiQD’s process, however, uses low-cost and low-toxic materials, substantially cutting the price and broadening potential application of quantum dots in new products like electricity-generating coatings for windows to power homes and buildings. The company won a $225,000 National Science Foundation grant last year to continue developing that technology.
While exploring window coatings for greenhouse generation, UbiQD began to also consider helping growers improve crop yield, since quantum dots can be structured to specifically emit red light.
“Plants absorb certain colors more efficiently, and that tends to be red, so we can coat greenhouses with red dots,” McDaniel said. “We already compiled data that supports its ability to improve crop growth.”
That’s now become UbiQD’s first target market while it continues to develop more products like solar generation for homes and buildings.
The company recently received a $325,000 interest-free loan from Los Alamos County to buy and remodel a 9,000-square-foot facility it was leasing in Los Alamos, where it employs 10 people.