Startup licenses Purdue, Notre Dame technologies to improve seawater desalination

October 8, 2015  


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., and CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - An official at a water technology startup based on innovations from Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame says his company could improve the membranes used in seawater desalination plants and industries like food and beverage, oil and gas, and pulp and paper.

Jaime Mateus, Ph.D., the CEO of Anfiro, said the company is developing reverse osmosis membranes, which are capable of separating water from all other dissolved ions commonly found in water. In conventional usage, membranes can be permanently damaged by chlorine, which is the most widely used water disinfectant, but Anfiro's membranes are not damaged during the process, which saves time, energy and cost, he said.

"In a typical seawater desalination process, chlorine is added upstream of the reverse osmosis stage, then removed before passing through the membranes. Afterward, a residual amount is reintroduced into the system," he said. "Anfiro's polymer materials are not degraded by exposure to chlorine, which means chlorine can be used throughout the reverse osmosis stage, which reduces bio-fouling and can lead to a longer membrane lifespan."

Anfiro's core technology is based on self-assembling polymer technology. The company licensed part of its technology from the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization. More than 20 startups fully or partially based on Purdue intellectual property were launched in the 2015 fiscal year.

"In a seawater reverse osmosis process, energy can represent 50 to 70 percent of the operational cost, so decreasing the operating pressure and energy use has a direct impact on the user's bottom line," Mateus said. "Because Anfiro's membranes can attain a much higher permeability than current technology, they can be operated at a lower pressure while still delivering a sufficiently high flow rate."

Mateus said other technologies to create novel membranes have been proposed, including graphene, nanotubes and aquaporin-based membranes. He said they hold promise, but are not easily mass-manufactured and may not be cost competitive with traditional manufacturing methods.

"Our aim is to increase performance without relying on exotic materials. Our technology relies on a scalable polymer synthesis and manufacturing methods that are similar to those used by existing membrane technologies," he said. "This approach differentiates us from other proposed membrane innovations and significantly reduces our manufacturing risk."

Mateus said the company expects to work with system integrators to develop new reverse osmosis systems that are designed to maximize the performance of Anfiro's membrane.

"The high permeability of our membranes can allow for smaller and more capital-efficient reverse osmosis systems that require fewer membranes to process a given amount of water," he said. "We project we can decrease the total cost of seawater desalination by up to 35 percent, which in many places around the world would allow desalination to achieve cost parity with conventional freshwater sources."

Mateus said the company's next steps include further developing its technology.

"Our goal is to scale up our membrane manufacturing so we can develop full-scale reverse osmosis elements that are suitable for pilot testing with commercial partners," he said. "We are exploring several potential commercial partnerships and investment opportunities that can help us throughout this development phase."

Anfiro has received several awards, grants and prizes including a $50,000 prize in the 2014 MassChallenge accelerator competition; a $50,000 Desalination Innovation Prize sponsored by General Electric and Saudi Aramco; a research grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center's Catalyst Award; the Headwaters Innovation Prize at the 2015 Symposium on Water Innovation; and it was a finalist in the 2014 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Business Plan Competition.

For information on other Purdue intellectual property ready for licensing and commercialization, visit http://www.otc-prf.org. For more information about available leadership positions, investing in a Purdue startup or licensing a Purdue innovation, visit http://www.purduefoundry.com.

About Anfiro

Anfiro is a water technology startup addressing global freshwater scarcity. We are using our self-assembling polymers to create chlorine resistant and high permeability reverse osmosis membranes that vastly outperform current membrane technology. This enables us to significantly reduce the cost of desalinating and purifying water, enabling clean and affordable water for a better tomorrow.

About Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization

The Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization operates one of the most comprehensive technology transfer programs among leading research universities in the U.S. Services provided by this office support the economic development initiatives of Purdue University and benefit the university's academic activities. The office is managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, which received the 2014 Incubator Network of the Year by the National Business Incubation Association for its work in entrepreneurship. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at foundry@prf.org. For more information on licensing a Purdue innovation, contact the Office of Technology Commercialization at innovation@prf.org 

Purdue Research Foundation contact: Steve Martin, 765-588-3342, sgmartin@prf.org 

Source: Jaime Mateus, jm@anfiro.com 

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