Ford Motor Co., Boeing Co. and Northwestern University have formed a research alliance to develop commercial applications for nanotechnology, a science that develops materials at the molecular level.
The alliance, which is expected to be approved by the university's board later this month, will focus on advancing several transportation technologies, such as clean-burning hydrogen fuel for cars.
Chicago-based Boeing and Ford, headquartered in Dearborn, Mich., have worked together for 10 years on a variety of research products. Northwestern is a new partner, and will share in licensing revenue from whatever intellectual property comes out of the research, Nick Twork, a Ford spokesman, said Friday.
Ford is not new to nanotechnology, having worked on projects with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among the areas of particular interest to the automaker are hydrogen-fuel storage and boosting power in batteries used to help drive hybrid vehicles.
Other areas of interest include specialty metals, thermal materials, coatings and sensors.
"Nanotechnology allows much more control over engineering just about anything," Twork said.
In the case of hydrogen fuel, nanoscience could help in developing a way to store more hydrogen in smaller containers, Twork said. Storage remains a problem in using the fuel in automobiles.
"Hydrogen is not a very dense source of energy, and requires large storage tanks," Twork said.
In the case of hybrid batteries, nanotechnology is expected to help in the development of materials that can store more energy without increasing the size of the energy source, Twork said.
Despite their different products -- cars for Ford and planes for Boeing -- the two companies share many of the technical problems, such as the need for lighter, stronger materials and fuel efficiency.
"We have similar challenges on different products," Twork said.
This week, Northwestern opened a $30 million engineering design center on the school's campus near Chicago. Ford contributed $10 million to the center.