Using microfluidics for biomass filtration and separation
UFraction8 was one of our 2017 global finalists to gain direct access to the Climate-KIC Accelerator with their filtration system based on microfluidics.
“Since the 2017 Global Grand Final we received quite a few grants and several awards.”
The biotech start-up is based in Scotland. Their sustainable solution replaces filters, membranes, flocculants, centrifuges and other technologies in bioreactor downstream processing. How? They use the power of microfluidics to offer gentle, yet energy efficient, separation. uFraction8’s technology can work with a wide range of microbes like micro algae, yeast and bacteria to sort biomass from culture medium without harmful high shear processes.
“Our scalable and sustainable technology saves time, money and CO2.”
We spoke with Monika Tomecka, UFraction8’s Executive Director to catch up on recent events: “Since the 2017 Global Grand Final we received quite a few grants and several awards. ClimateLaunchpad helped us to further build on our ideas, as did participating in the Climate-KIC Accelerator. Currently we are interacting with customers and rolling out paid pilot projects.”
Can you tell us a bit more about your technology and its benefits?
“Sure. Current downstream processing solutions in bio-production space are costly and inefficient. Filters and membranes clog easily, need frequent cleaning and replacement. Chemical flocculants are not edible and can therefore not be used for consumables production. Centrifuges are energy inefficient and hard to scale up. Freeze drying costs are high because of the high water content in biomass. Our scalable and sustainable technology saves time, money and CO2. uFraction8 is a scalable solution that can be used for cell separation, biomass harvesting and dewatering. It does not need pre-concentration steps and can replace filters, membranes, flocculants and centrifuges all at once, leading to production of more dry biomass for freeze drying, while lowering costs.”
75 uFraction8 units can each year save up to 2,344 tonnes of CO2 compared to other systems. That equals 290 cars driving around the world or 4,553 barrels of oil burnt. Indirect climate impact is found in the fact that the technology does not need fresh water and does not compete for fertile land.
So you are saying UFraction8 is not just a sustainable solution, it is also cheaper?
“Yes. Take the example of an industrial centrifuge. That will cost something like € 400,000. We can save our customers around € 700,000. How? Well, with a centrifuge you don’t just pay for the machinery, you will need to invest in reinforcing the foundation of your building. There is a lot of power and a lot of energy stored in a centrifuge, so you need a lot of steel and concrete around it to actually hold it in place. Buying a centrifuge is only about 40% of the actual cost. Our technology eliminates the extra costs, it can be pretty much just rolled into a building and simply mounted in place. That is a huge saving at the offset. On top of that UFraction8 runs on 75% of the energy a centrifuge needs. So, even if you were to get a centrifuge for free, our system would save you money.”
“We had been steadily working on the technology, but it's not just the technology that makes a business.”
How did it all get started?
“I founded UFraction8 with my co-founder Brian Miller. He's an engineer and I am a biologist and we decided to join forces for the biotechnology market and that's pretty much how our company was born. This was in April 2017 and we've been working on it since then.”
When you decided to join ClimateLaunchpad in 2017, how advanced were you with the idea?
“It was relatively early stage for us, we were still like putting our feet on the ground. We had been steadily working on the technology, but it's not just the technology that makes a business. At that moment we were looking at gaining knowledge about business development and pitching to investors. We needed to get our heads around the business and finance side of running this company.
So we got into the programme and we are really grateful for the Boot Camp training. Our coach was Mike Goodfellow. It was really, really, really good and a perfect eye opener, we learned a lot. Mike had so much expert advice and he shared his experiences about his businesses and he really helped us to set up ours. It was an amazing experience to be with all teams together in one room for two days, the interaction was very beneficial. After Boot Camp we developed a group of friends who we still talk to and interact with.”
Sounds like you had an intense journey so far. What has been you biggest success to date and how did ClimateLaunchpad help you achieve that?
“The fact that the company is still alive means we have been able to finance ourselves. We have been lucky in that regard with securing several grants. We also found investors and we are doing paid pilot projects with customers.
“Besides the training, being part of ClimateLaunchpad created visibility and credibility for us.”
Not only did we receive very good training, being part of ClimateLaunchpad also created visibility for us, particularly by being in the National Finals and in the Global Grand Final. Both events got a lot of exposure in the media. That was great for us, as people – such as potential customers - started to reach out to us. Another thing that ClimateLaunchpad helped us with is our credibility. Whenever someone would look us up, we were associated with this competition and information about us was on the website and in press releases. These are important issues when you are an early stage company.”
Best advice: Get involved.
“If you’re not going to get involved, you're not going to get all the benefits. It is not necessarily about winning. It's about meeting all those likeminded people, about getting the training that actually takes you to the next level and about a lot of fresh ideas. Interact not only with the people who teach you, but also with the people in the room because there is a lot of peer to peer learning.”