BOOTHBAY, Maine — The U.S. Marine Corps has awarded Biovation II LLC, a manufacturing and bioscience company based in Boothbay, a $978,000 contract to develop a boot-drying product for soldiers.
The 20-month agreement calls for Biovation II to develop and test military-grade samples of a lightweight boot insert made of super-absorbent polymer and polylactic acid materials. The award will pay for field testing and benchmarking of the technology in preparation for high-volume manufacturing.
The idea is for soldiers to place the insert inside their boots overnight. It essentially absorbs and converts moisture into a gel-like substance while containing an antimicrobial chemical to reduce odor-causing pathogens. The insert, which requires no electrical power, can be reused multiple times until it is saturated, and then tossed and replaced with another insert. The materials used are biodegradable and biocompostable.
“It’s a high-tech version of putting newspaper in, which is how we got the idea,” explained Biovation II CEO Kerem Durdag. “It is basically a sock full of an advanced material.” He adds that the testing will determine how many times the insert can be reused, how rugged it is and whether it can be stuffed into a backpack.
The contract with the Department of Navy, U.S. Marine Corps System Command, is from the Navy’s Rapid Innovation Fund, created to move innovative technologies into acquisition programs. Durdag said the Marines will try out the thousands of test inserts his company will make under the contract, but there is no commitment to purchase the product after that. During the validation process, the prototypes will be tested and the company will make changes to the feedback four times.
Biovation II will make the products in Boothbay, and immediately plans to add two full-timers to its current staff of five, a senior production engineer and a manufacturing engineer, Durdag said.
He plans to validate the product prototype, for which he has filed utility patents, in the field within 20 months and have it in the market in 20-24 months, when he could sell it to other potential buyers such as hikers, campers, runners, firefighters and workers in heavy industries. It will be available in two or three sizes, for different boot sizes and to accommodate female boot wearers.
The issue of wet feet emerged in World Wars I and II, as well as the Vietnam War, when soldiers on both sides suffered from trench foot, a fungal infection caused by prolonged wet feet due to the lack of waterproof footwear. While that isn’t so much of a problem today, military boots still do get moist and sweaty during long days of wear, causing foot discomfort.
“They suffer blisters, chafing and their feet start to stink,” said Durdag. To date, soldiers have carried multiple pairs of boots or taken changes of socks, but those eventually got wet. There are boot dryers on the market that are essentially inverted hair dryers, but Durdag said they weigh 5-10 pounds, require power and cost $100.
Durdag said the inserts will be a major part of Biovation II’s product base, which comprises four other product lines using the same technology: consumer and institutional protection, food packaging, wound care and plant media. The wound care product is scheduled to go into U.S. Food and Drug Administration testing around the third quarter of this year. The company also plans to announce a health care product for reducing the risk of hospital-acquired infections in the next six to eight weeks with a U.S. partner, and get that product onto the market in nine to 12 months, Durdag says.
Biovation II is a portfolio company of Anania and Associates Investment Co., a Portland-based investment firm that Durdag says has put several million dollars into his company. Other investors have put in $500,000, but he declined to name them. Biovation II also has $421,500 from the Maine Technology Institute, with another $200,000 granted that it has not drawn down on yet, but plans to do so over the next year, he said.