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Micropollutant removal innovation wins science award

A granular adsorbent capable of the specific binding and removing of target micropollutants, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals, high performance chemicals and heavy metals, from wastewater has won a prestigious materials science award.

Henrik Hagemann, CEO of CustoMemHenrik Hagemann, CEO of CustoMem

CustoMem, founded in 2015 by two Imperial College London graduates, Henrik Hagemann and Gabi Santosa, has been awarded the £25,000 Venture Prize by the Armourers and Brasiers Company. This absorbent will be particularly relevant at commercial airports, oil and gas operations and at military installations where there are significant micro-pollutants.

“Although industrial micro-pollutants comprise only a small percentage of total pollutants, their complex chemistries prevent them from being effectively dealt with by current waste water treatment methods.  This renders freshwater unusable and contributes to water stress that will affect 47 per cent of the world’s population by 2030,” explained Henrik Hagemann, CEO of CustoMem. “One such class of micropollutants includes Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs), which pose a substantial health problem as they are highly toxic to humans and animals.”

PFCs are common in Aqueous Film Forming Foams (AFFFs) used for firefighting and can also be found in fluoropolymer coated cookware, sports clothing, medical equipment, and more. They are amongst the most stable organic compounds and are highly persistent in the environment.

The health threat posed by PFCs has prompted many countries to lay down more stringent regulations to the discharge of these compounds. This is evidenced by recent moves by both the EU through the Environmental Quality Standards Directive and in the US through the Environmental Protection Agency.

CustoMem has combined its leading expertise in biomaterials and synthetic biology to create CustoMem Granular Media (CGM). A novel bio-adsorbent that can selectively capture micropollutants, like PFCs, with ten times faster binding kinetics and two times greater adsorption compared with traditional adsorbent materials like anion-exchange media and granular activated carbon. CGM, once saturated, can be regenerated more than five times. The captured pollutants can be removed with a proprietary wash and safely disposed of or repurposed.

“Our CGM solution is cost-effective and designed to drop-in to existing infrastructure. This avoids the need to install expensive treatment processes and will augment water recycling and reclamation on local and industrial scales,” explained Mr Hagemann. 

CGM is designed and manufactured through a sustainable biological production that does not rely on or produce any hazardous chemicals and reduces energy consumption. It enables a circular economy and reduces energy of operation upon implementation.

CustoMem’s CGM is pertinent to navy and airforce bases where AFFFs for firefighting are indispensable for safety reasons. CGM can treat these industries’ industrial wastewater and help restore legacy contamination sites. 

“We are initially targeting the PFCs treatment market worth $1.6bn in Europe and the US. However, CGM can also address hazardous wastewater from other industries including mining, pharmaceuticals and textiles,” explained Henrik Hagemann.

“This pioneering development looks to harness nature’s capacity to make biomaterials which will promote human health and provide a solution to a key environmental issue,” said Professor Bill Bonfield, chairman of the Armourers and Brasiers Venture Prize judging panel. “Our prize looks to encourage entrepreneurship in materials science and provide funding to help developments like this realise their potential.” 

The £25,000 prize will enable CustoMem to better characterise and test the technical performance of CGM for removing PFCs from waste water in industrially relevant conditions.

CustoMem is based at Imperial College’s Incubator and supported by SynbiCITE, the Royal Academy of Engineering, Innovate UK, and Climate–KIC.

Author: James Brockett,
Topic: Innovation , Treatment
Tags: treatment , Innovation , industrial wastewater

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