Lenoir business earns $25,000 grant for innovation

Dec. 13, 2013 @ 08:38 AM

Pete Lohr started Advanced Hydrogen Power Technologies in Lenoir earlier this year, founded on a technology that Lohr developed himself.

Lohr used his background in mechanical engineering to develop his hydrogen-generating cartridge, the “baseline technology” that the rest of his work uses, accumulating four patents since 2009. An application that he hopes will take off soon he calls “non-explosive welding” or impact bonding, an alternative to traditional welding, formerly the only method of bonding dissimilar metals.

Currently the main focus of AHPT is on impact bonding hardened materials to steel to create longer-lasting drilling, chiseling and cutting tools, Lohr said.

On Tuesday, Lohr will formally accept a $25,000 grant for his work from Innovation Fund North Carolina, to help his new product and company grow.

The Innovation Fund is a national nonprofit that partners with community colleges to mentor, and provide pre-seed funding to, startup companies and entrepreneurs in an effort to develop strong businesses and create jobs.

In North Carolina, the Innovation Fund has partnered with Catawba Valley Community College, and this round of awards is the organization’s first, giving out $275,000 in awards. Lohr will join officials from the other companies at a private reception Tuesday in Conover.

Tony Mifsud, executive director of Innovation Fund North Carolina, said Lohr and his company were among the best that applied for the award.

“It’s the technology, the business itself and the also the management. There’s a lot of pieces within those three categories that we looked at,” Mifsud said. Lohr also had a “very interesting and significant patent.”

A few strings are attached to the funds, including a promise by Lohr to keep his business in North Carolina for the next six years, as well as offering an internship to a student involved in entrepreneurship.

The funds come at a crucial stage for these businesses, said Mifsud, a time of high risk that makes it hard for entrepreneurs to get funding elsewhere.

Lohr said this grant will help make it possible for him to prove that his invention works. Lohr will use the funds for a proof of concept, using his process to bond the two metals he will be using and send them to an independent lab to verify that the metals were successfully bonded, to show potential customers that the process works. That will allow the company to move to the next step, manufacturing and selling product, Lohr said.

He has already successfully verified two bonded metals through North Carolina State University as part of a previous grant he received, but with different metals than he is using now.

“I think we’ve done all the legwork and groundwork to get to this point and I think we’re on the verge of it taking off,” Lohr said. “What we’re doing here with the IFNC grant project will give us the traction we need to get a product in the market, and when the capability becomes known, it’s just going to take off.”

The baseline technology of the hydrogen-generating cartridge has other uses, Lohr said, two of which he already has patented. But the focus is on welding for now, based on the response it has garnered, including earning Lohr third place in The Edison Project Competition in 2011 and a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

“It’s going to be a brand new welding option that will be in the textbooks right along with all the existing methods of welding,” Lohr said.