Facility Under New Management
Lease agreements to be signed between the Department of Energy, the Los
Alamos Commerce and Development Corp. and Spectra Gases of New Jersey,
will pave the way for a private company to begin producing the potentially
life-saving stable isotopes of carbon-13 and oxygen-17 and oxygen-18 for
the U.S. market. Production will occur at the Laboratory's ICON facility.
ICON stands for Isotopes of Carbon, Oxygen and Nitrogen.
Currently, foreign-owned, U.S.-based companies produce these isotopes,
but not in sufficient amounts to meet current market demand. According
to Cliff Unkefer of the Laboratory's NIH-supported Stable Isotope Resource,
shortages are especially severe in the areas of nuclear medicine and biomedical
research. The U.S. need has become so acute that the National Institutes
of Health has been deferring or canceling research projects that require
the use of these isotopes. The revitalized ICON facility will help meet
critical medical and diagnostic needs and minimize U.S. dependency on
"We are excited to have the opportunity to revitalize the ICON facility
and to help address the shortages that exist for these important gases,"
said Andrew Dietz, CEO of Spectra Gases. "We seek to become a valuable
addition to the Los Alamos and Northern New Mexico business community."
The first order of business for the company will be the refurbishment
and restart of the facility, which is anticipated to take at least six
to eight months. Providing that this effort is
successful, Spectra Gases anticipates the potential for eventually employing
as many as 80 to 100 people in their operations in Northern New Mexico.
This lease agreement also is important only because it signals a different
way of doing business at the Laboratory by allowing a private company
to lease - in this case, sublease - a DOE facility. The ICON facility,
located in the Laboratory's Technical Area 46, will be leased to the LACDC,
following the model of the Los Alamos Research Park, and then subleased
to Spectra Gases.
Los Alamos scientists pioneered the process of stable isotope production
using the cryogenic distillation separation method in the late 1960s and
the Laboratory produced isotopes for the national market until the late
1980s when the technology was transferred to the private sector. These
industrial firms successfully met the market demand until the late 1990s.
The ICON facility was placed in stand-down mode in 1992 principally because
the industrial capacity for the production of stable isotopes was meeting
the market need. Current shortages indicate that this is no longer the
case. The benefits to the Laboratory are numerous. The availability of
the stable isotopes enhances the Laboratory's ability to maintain existing
isotope-related projects and bid on future scientific research proposals.
It positions the Lab as a key player in biomedical research. The project
also will generate revenue streams for DOE and the Laboratory in the form
of lease fees, licensing fees from intellectual property generated, and
royalties from derivative compound sales. Spectra Gases Inc. is a global
leader in the manufacture of specialty gases for high technology markets.
Headquartered in Branchburg, N.J., the company manufactures, refines and
purifies a variety of gaseous raw materials for distribution in Europe,
Asia and North America. The company plans to upgrade some
of the equipment at the ICON facility before beginning production of carbon
and oxygen isotopes. Oxygen-17 and oxygen-18 will be produced by cryogenic
distillation of nitric oxide, while carbon-13 will be produced from carbon
--Todd Hanson, LANL Newsbulletin