A new wave of graduate entrepreneurs are being helped on their way to deliver highly disruptive technologies to the industrial sector, writes Louisa Hearn.
Fledgling entrepreneurs in the UK are pulling some left-field solutions out of the bag to solve common industrial challenges.
The July/August issue of Process Engineering profiled chemical engineering graduate, Jack Ramsey, whose research on the pasteurisation of beer netted him the Undergraduate Project prize from the Institution of Chemical Engineering (IChemE).
Now, another IChemE student member has received the UK-wide Salters’ Graduate Prize for her thesis work involving the treatment of wastewater.
Carol Nairn recently received her MEng qualification after completing her studies within the Department of Chemical & Process Engineering at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.
Nairn’s thesis was based on application of the Purple Phototrophic Bacteria to Partition-Release-Recovery (PPR) concept.
“Research for my thesis project also gave me the chance to explore wastewater treatment; the aim is to develop a more sustainable approach to the treatment of domestic wastewater and recovery of nutrients in the water,” says Nairn.
The challenges of cleaning contaminated water in the UK have also caught the eye of other enterprising graduates.
Henrik Hagemann, a recent engineering graduate and the founder of a startup called CustoMem, has developed a pioneering cellulose membrane that is engineered to selectively filter out specific pollutants that cannot currently be captured.
Hagemann’s technology has caught the attention of the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), becoming one of four to receive an enterprise fellowship from the Academy.
The new enterprise fellowship awards were recently established by the RAEng and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, founded by Prince Albert to organise the world’s first trade fair.
The RAEng said the 1851 Royal Commission Enterprise Fellowships were established “to help develop the skills and innovations of high-potential engineering entrepreneurs based in the UK who do not have the experience or support from employment with a university or well-established company to get their product to market”.
These graduates were chosen because they have ideas with incredibly disruptive potential but they are very early-stage and need support to get them to market ahead of the global competition
Ana Avaliani, head of enterprise at the RAEng
Other recipients of the fellowship include the developer of a 3D sensing material designed to replace electronic controls, as well as a creator of a pioneering wristband to help users keep calm or stay alert.
Each of the recipients was chosen because their innovation had mass-market potential, said the RAEng.
For example, the bioengineered water treatment membrane was up to 100 times cheaper and took 1,000 times less energy to produce than existing water treatment technologies, which might dramatically reduce the cost of cleaning polluted water across Europe.
The new Tangi0 sensing material was also a potentially transformative technology by being cheaper and easier to produce than traditional electronic controls, the RAEng said.
“They have ideas with incredibly disruptive potential but they are very early-stage and need support to get them to market ahead of the global competition,” said Ana Avaliani, head of enterprise at the RAEng.
As well as receiving up to £50,000 to aid further development of their technology, the graduates will also become members of the RAEng Enterprise Hub.
In the spotlight
Three of the four recipients of the RAEng fellowship have developed technologies with specific interest to process industries:
Henrik Hagemann, CustoMem
With 300,000 hectares of land estimated to be contaminated with water pollution in the UK, many existing water treatment procedures cannot filter out some micropollutants, including arsenic and heavy metals. They can also require excessive energy or hazardous chemicals.
Henrik Hagemann is developing a pioneering cellulose membrane that he has engineered to selectively filter out specific pollutants that cannot currently be captured. This may offer a solution that is 10 times cheaper to produce than competing nanomembrane treatments and the production requires 1,000 times less energy.
CustoMem aims to sell membrane cartridges and reusable water treatment units to major manufacturers, such as textile and mining companies that are facing regulatory pressures, providing a cheap, sustainable way to eliminate contamination from their supply chains.
Ming Kong, Tangi0
The many switches, joysticks, buttons and wheels that enable humans to interact with electronic products are often unwieldy, difficult to use and expensive to make, requiring thousands of complex sensors within each one.
Ming Kong has invented a new sensing method based in a soft, hyper-sensitive material that can sense a greater range of touch motions than traditional electronic product controls. It can be moulded out of one material into a 3D shape, rather than assembled in parts.
The technology aims to make controls more intuitive. While touchscreens and buttons require you to move a virtual object in 3D space with 2D controls, Tangi0 enables users to physically perform the desired on-screen movement on a flexible, soft 3D object, that may also have the potential to replace conventional controls.
Jack Hooper, doppel
Jack Hooper is co-founder and commercial director of doppel, a company that has developed a pioneering wristband that keeps its users calm and focused.
The wristband creates a silent rhythmic pulse that is felt on the inside of a wrist as a heartbeat like vibration.
Like listening to music, a fast rhythm helps you to feel more alert; a slower rhythm is calming. The technology is also designed to change mood for specific scenarios such as high-pressure environments, highintensity exercise and rest and recuperation.
During independent controlled tests by psychologists, the technology was found to dramatically improve focus.
It has undergone hundreds of trials with users reporting the ability to concentrate for longer periods, remain calm under pressure or maintain motivation during fitness training.