Endeavors in Advanced Composites: UT Startup Recycles Fibers for Nonwoven Mats

Article originally published by UT Research Foundation

Endeavor Composites is based in East Tennessee, but the startup’s name originates from something a little more out of this world: the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

“The name kept chasing me,” explained Founder and Chief Executive Officer Hicham Ghossein, PhD. After touring the processing bay where Endeavour was housed as a student in 2011 and then receiving countless signs about his future endeavors, Hicham knew what he should name his startup. “The name means a lot to me, especially since my end goal is to make high-end, advanced composites for aerospace applications.”

Endeavor Composites has developed an innovative mixer system that can disperse long (1 to 1.5 inches) carbon fibers in water, producing defect-free nonwoven mats for use in fiber-reinforced composites manufacturing — a challenge that researchers have been unsuccessfully attempting to solve for the past few decades. The technology offers numerous advantages over current fiber dispersion techniques and meets a critical need to prevent the waste of scrap and recycled fibers caused by rise in demand for carbon fibers in the composites industry. The technology also addresses the automotive industry’s current emphasis on using lightweight materials to increase fuel efficiency, which has larger future implications for the marine industry and aerospace interiors.

Hicham, a first-generation college student from Lebanon, came to the U.S. intending to continue his graduate education in the field of applied physics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). His career ambitions changed, however, once he took a course about the mechanics of composites with then UAB professor Dr. Uday Vaidya, who currently serves as the UT/ORNL Governor’s Chair in Advanced Composites Manufacturing, Director of the Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility, and the Chief Technology Officer at IACMI. The course fascinated Hicham, making him realize his true calling was composites and ultimately leading to his decision to switch PhD tracks.

Later, when Dr. Vaidya moved to UT, Hicham followed his advisor and completed his doctorate there as well. Hicham credits Uday with encouraging him to pursue his doctoral research in nonwoven carbon fiber fabric dispersion techniques — a move that would lead him to form Endeavor Composites, a company revolving around the innovative fiber mixing technique he developed along with Uday and Dr. Lonnie Love of ORNL.

After filing an invention disclosure on the technology, Hicham worked with UTRF to file a patent application and execute a license to his company. He expressed appreciation for UTRF’s support during the entire process, remarking that the team was very helpful and flexible. He continued, saying, “One of the biggest values from working with UTRF is that they are truly working toward helping us succeed. The process is not easy, but UTRF helped tremendously.”

Hicham worked briefly for industry before returning to East Tennessee to fully commit himself to his company and moving his technology closer to market readiness. He joined ORNL’s Innovation Crossroads program, and as a Cohort 3 participant, he outlined two program goals: build a scaled-up machine to process the fabric beyond the current lab-scale production and create a database to validate that he has a working, viable product.

“As scientists and engineers, we want to see our ideas grow and mature,” he explained. “No one wants to discover something and see it put on a library shelf. Being in an ecosystem with organizations and programs like UTRF, IACMI, and Innovation Crossroads that help you see your work become significant is a huge value for us.”

“Fortunately, these researchers are not alone in their desire to advance technologies to market. “UTRF is committed to helping burgeoning entrepreneurs, like Hicham, advance their innovations,” said UTRF Licensing Associate Andreana Leskovjan. “We look forward to seeing Hicham’s technology and Endeavor Composites grow through his time in Innovation Crossroads and beyond.”

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