TRIADELPHIA- For a company that has produced a patent application every month for the last 10 years, Touchstone Research Laboratory's intentional lack of a central focus on technology may come as a surprise.
Built as a research facility with a guiding force of innovation, Triadelphia-based Touchstone works on a variety of projects, including those concerning algae, carbon, aluminum alloys, jet engines and windmills.
"Most people focus on technology. We build with a central idea of innovation," said Touchstone President and CEO Brian Joseph.
The company plans to use that focus to spin out manufacturing businesses.
"We are transitioning from a lot of invention and new ideas to getting (those ideas) into the marketplace," Joseph said. "New materials change everything."
Touchstone is one of the region's economic engines, headquartered at the Millenium Center. The company worked closely for years with the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., and has remained a solid employer and desirable company to work for.
Touchstone already created one business for producing CFOAM, a coal-based material that is lightweight, fire-resistant and impact-absorbing. The carbon foam is used in military, industrial, aerospace and commercial product markets.
Additional businesses will produce carbon fiber composites and fiber-reinforced aluminum. The latter has the weight of aluminum but the strength and stiffness of steel.
"Whenever we enter a new tech area, whether it's coal or aluminum, we always look at ourselves and say, 'What do we bring to this?'," Joseph said.
Touchstone brings a new perspective to resourcing oil with the company's algae-growing facility. According to Joseph, all of the oil in the world came from algae at one time. The world's fastest-growing crop, algae consumes carbon dioxide.
Joseph said carbon dioxide emitted when coal burns can be recycled and used to grow algae for oil production. Touchstone puts that method into practice with the company's four 200-foot long algae-growing ponds in Wooster, Ohio. Two of those ponds are in greenhouses, the other two outdoors. The waste carbon dioxide used to grow algae comes from the facility's special burning system that heats the greenhouses.
Touchstone and five other major U.S. algae facilities research and test algal technology. Of those, Touchstone is the only one based in the northern part of the country.
Despite the belief that algae grow faster in sunnier climates, Joseph finds local area industry and cooler climates advantageous for producing more oil per algae.
"We think the right thing to work on is how we capture the CO2 from coal-burning power plants in the north and the east," he said.
Keeping an innovative mindset, Joseph looks at the local impact of Touchstone's national work.
"It's all about economic development and helping the area grow."