LiftPort Inc. of Bremerton, WA said it will open a plant in New Jersey this summer to produce the building blocks for a 62,000-mile-long elevator cable into outer space.
The privately held company said a newly created division, called LiftPort Nanotech Inc., in June will begin operating a 3,000-square-foot plant in Millville, N.J., to produce carbon nanotubes.
Carbon nanotubes are pure carbon that is shaped into tubes one ten-thousandth the diameter of a human hair and one one-thousandth a hair’s diameter in length. Roughly 60 times stronger than steel, it is the only substance that could be used to construct the elevator cable, which is actually a ribbon about 8 inches wide, the company said.
The ribbon will be anchored in midocean to a platform, stretching 62,000 miles into space and attached at the far end to a small, orbiting counterweight, said LiftPort founder and Chief Executive Michael Laine, 37.
A robotic elevator car will crawl up and down that ribbon, carrying satellites, solar-power systems — and eventually, people — into space.
And this will happen within 13 years, Laine said.
Laine said the company chose Millville because of its location — about three hours equidistant from Washington, D.C., and New York City — and because the considerable electricity required to build carbon nanotubes can be bought there for about a half-cent per kilowatt-hour.
In contrast, the national average cost for electricity is about 9 cents per kilowatt-hour, he said.
The city of Millville and a county development project there jointly provided $100,000 to help build the plant, which will open with six full-time employees.
The 3-year-old parent company, also known as LiftPort Group Inc., has five full-time employees and four part-timers. It will remain in Bremerton.
The company is also making good progress in developing the climbing robots, Laine said. Pending approval by the Federal Aviation Administration, it will test a climbing robot this summer, sending it up a string tethered to a hot-air balloon.
The company hopes to make money selling its New Jersey-produced nanotubes to plastic and glass manufacturers, whose wares it can strengthen considerably.
Adding 2 percent carbon nanotubes to 98 percent pure polypropylene plastic makes the mixture 40 percent stronger, Laine said. That makes it ideal for laptop computer cases, car bodies and airplane parts.
Laine said more than 100 companies are competing with his in the race to develop the perfect material for the space elevator. His company has 80 shareholders, many of whom have put in between $500 and $10,000 each, and a total of about $700,000 in assets.