(See also my column in the Philadelphia Inquirer March 13) Advanced Plasma Solutions' AmpTech Makerspace, in a 20,000 sq. ft. former financial-services building at 31 General Warren Blvd., off Pa. 29 north of Malvern, is the latest high-tech do-it-yourself lab and business space to erupt in the Philadelphia area. (See also, for example, Evan Malone PhD.'s NextFab, home to start-ups like this. Both NextFab and AmpTech are for-profit enterprises, despite the amptech.org Web address.)
Plasma, to the AmpTech crew, is the fourth state of matter -- after solid, liquid and gas -- consisting of charged chemical ions under pressure, which turns materials into powerful catalysts in chemical reactions. Lightning and sunshine are examples of plasma, though not all plasmas are that hot. Controlling plasma in lab conditions, at temperatures up to 4,500 degrees F. and as low as room temperature, gives you powerful cutting and welding tools, speeds sterilization, and can turns gases or gunks into flowing liquids, for example. Pack that into a 3-D printer and you can make some cool prototypes for mass gadget production.
Leading AmpTech is Mike Antonucci, a refugee from corporate America (Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard), entrepreneur (EarlyStageProducts, VoiceVerified), and cofounder with Robert Fiori of the local 3-D Printing Alliance.
Antonucci showed me around AmpTech last month. The group is installing offices and plasma tools -- 3-D printers capable of handling composite materials under pressure, a "fully-staffed plasma lab" with "hard to find plasma devices and prototypes," including specialized nozzles and wet and dry lab systems; material supplies, expert staff, workstations and design stations. They are inviting scholars, students, big companies and start-up firms to join and engage.
AmpTech's owner, Advanced Plasma Solutions, was founded as a plasma-technologies development firm by engineers Roman Fedorovsky and Igor Shamis in 2011. In one promising project, Advanced Plasma holds an exclusive license for an A.J. Drexel Advanced Plasma Institute plasma technology it is using, with industrial partners, "for liquifying natural gas into liquid fuels," opening potential new high-value markets for Pennsylvania natural gas, says Simon Kassas, one of Fedorovsky's partners in the parent company. Another project is gasifying waste plastic into fuel.
"Our projects are not cheap," Kassas added. "These are a new, possibly disruptive technologies. The purpose of AmpTech is to take this kind of plasma service and make it available for the local guy, the small entrpereneurs who may want to rent time with the scientists and then lab, do their own testing, and come out with a prototype" for another plasma application.
Antonucci and Advanced Plasma Solutions chief financial officer Pierre Fares, past treasurer of Interstate Resources Inc., Reading, say they are attracting interest from medically-focused projects such as clinical-trial and wound-healing testing services; energy developers, including people focused on hydrogen and natural gas fuel processing and conversion; water sterilization; farm specialties such as "plasma enhanced mushroom production," a nod to one of Chester County's top horticultural crops; seed sterilization and germination; pH enhancements and other soil treatments; waste-to-energy conversion.
Antonucci intends that the mix of scientists, engineers and businesspeople AmpTech is attracting will create "a hybrid professional makerspace" that "will foster real innovation without creating intellectual-property issues or other barriers to their success."