Trion Coatings was developed through a partnership between University of Notre Dame faculty researchers and a startup company based at the university’s IDEA Center. It was formed for the purpose of developing a safer alternative to hexavalent chromium in functional and decorative chrome plating processes.
“This technology represents a major advancement in allowing steel manufacturers to produce chrome-plated steel in a way that is efficient, environmentally friendly and safe for workers,” says Doug Morrison, Trion Coatings president and cofounder. The patent-pending process uses trivalent chromium salts and a proprietary ionic liquid solution that Morrison says offers faster electroplating speeds, improved wear resistance and overall higher performance results than traditional hexavalent chrome, while also offering an excellent health and safety profile.
“There are large organizations in this field that have spent a lot of money, time and resources trying to develop an alternative. We believe our approach is different,” Morrison says. “Other companies are working with different types of chemistries that are based largely on aqueous-based systems. We’ve taken another approach where we’ve built our system around this new field of chemistry called ionic liquids. This allows us to do things differently.”
Trion is supported by its partners Middleburg Capital Development, Nucor Corporation and KCH Engineered Systems, which designs and installs corrosion resistant ventilation systems. That team has met with a variety of companies over the last six years to discuss the process and share lab-scale data. “Our rates of deposition, mechanical performance, in terms of hardness, wear resistance, coefficient of friction, is something that those aqueous-based chemistries have not been able to obtain,” Morrison says.
This pilot line will allow Trion to work on commercial-size parts and accelerate the transition to broader commercialization. “This is sort of a threshold we’re crossing,” Morrison says. “People see things happening in the lab and it doesn’t mean anything until you’re doing actual parts. We’re doing proof-of-concept at the next scale and that’s an important milestone.”
Trion is also looking ahead. “There’s opportunity right now as we scale the technology, but there’s also opportunity to continue developing new technology on top of our platform,” Morrison says. “We have a product that’s ready for the market, and we have intellectual property that we’ve submitted to the World Intellectual Property organization that talks about our ability to do things beyond chrome – the ability to deposit other metals besides chrome. Those things are important to the future industry too.”