Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SSL (Novel microfiltration technology for emissions reduction)

Reporting period: 2016-08-01 to 2016-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Microfiltration (MF) is the separation of particles that have diameters between 0.1 and 100μm (Figure 1). At this size range, however, technology hurdles have hampered the development of this field – and hence limited the scope of applications. Current membranes/filters use polymeric (or plastic-based) materials, which have several limitations: they are not easily suitable to separate micron-sized particles (as they lose stability) and do not withstand high temperatures nor harsh chemical conditions (otherwise useful for liquid or gas cleaning).
This MF challenge leads onto numerous the difficulties in industrial and large-scale processing, with the lack of a defined technology that can be easily applied – i.e. neither a membrane nor filter will often be suitable. Particularly, the reduced reusability, large costs associated with current ceramic-based membranes, increased energy requirements to push liquid through under-optimized processes and very limited understanding of the overall filtration process. Solving this technology hurdle allows us to tap into a multi-billion Euro industry.
We, Smart Separations Limited (SSL), have identified a wide range of market segments where MF is either already in use (but could be improved) or can potentially be used to replace current deficient approaches: human blood processing, air purification, industrial gas emissions control (including energy generation), food and beverage processing (e.g. dairy, fruit juice and beer), biopharmaceuticals manufacturing, drinking water production, wastewater treatment, semiconductor fabrication, and many other industrial processes. Essentially, applications where micro-particles (with sizes above 1µm and just below 100µm) need to be separated. The current general global market for these MF membranes is expected to reach €2.8 billion by 2018 (BCC Research), although this does not take into account the much larger markets that are currently poorly served by deficient alternatives – such as in air purification and human cell separations.
Smart Separations Ltd (SSL) has developed a revolutionary filtration system that can be tailored to suit many different applications in the underdeveloped yet global €78 billion separation/filtration industry. The ability to change the size of the filter to the task required can benefit many fields by reducing the cost of production (such as the need of a mould), and allowing the manufacture of pore sizes in narrow ranges, within microfiltration (<1 to 30 µm) – which hereto has not been easily addressable.
This device will provide a more controlled, versatile, and low-cost solution for several industries including blood donations, stem cell R&D, air filtration, and even food & drink processing. We initially targeted the blood/stem cell sector but now we are focusing on the room temperature air purification market which has highly inadequate technologies and where we can make the greatest impact.
With this project, we plan to bring the greatest impact by improving indoor air quality and thus improving quality of life, a mission that is at the forefront of our company. Our filter can integrate particulate and chemical removal into a single multifunctional system, so infrastructure and running costs can be dramatically reduced. Plus, it can be integrated in residential, commercial & industrial air conditioners, allowing for cleaner and less polluted indoor air – whilst heavily reducing bacterial and allergen (e.g. pollen) contamination. Emission of micro-particulates, such as PM2.5 and PM10, have been deemed a grave hazard to our health, which our technology has the potential to help tackle. With this funding, we intend to expand the already successful cellular and biological-based technology to indoor air purification by establishing a clear path to commercialisation through testing the new filtration system and conducting market and IP research.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

Through this Phase 1 project we have gathered market intelligence, developed the go-to-market strategy and business plan, and conducted a partner and IP search, with the aim to test feasibility of the new product. The global indoor air purification market is expected to reach €22.8 billion by 2024 with the European segment forecast to reach €4.3 billion by 2022. We expect that, within 3 years, our disruptive product will bring large economic savings to this large global high-volume market. We have produced a robust and detailed business plan and commercialisation strategy including an outline for a Phase 2 application to support this highly beneficial and urgently needed product reaching the marketplace.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

SSL has developed a better, cheaper, more efficient/robust filter to separate micron-sized particles: a proprietary filtration technology based on a novel adaptation of long-established ceramic filters tailored to suit a wide range of different applications. SSL enables the production of unique filters with tailored “conical” cut-through pores, ideal for when pore sizes are usually unavailable/unknown.
SSL’s proprietary technology is a method to produce a filter (or sieve) with “holes”, or pores, in the MF range (typically 1 to 50μm in diameter, or around the thickness of a human hair). The combination of micro-patterning and controlled abrasion of a ceramic support enables the creation of a unique filter with tailored “flared” or “conical” pore sizes to suit different needs, high pore density and good mechanical strength (see Figure 2).
With fabrication costs significantly lower than rival technologies, our unique selling points are complemented by a structure that is sterilisable, recyclable and reusable – all important conditions for mainstream applications. Moreover, its rigid structure and stability at high temperatures (over 1,000°C) allows structured modifications that would otherwise be impossible to achieve with standard polymeric membranes.
Our cutting‐edge MF technology provides more added value by reducing waste, lower costs for industry users, and solves an enormous pain in an uncharted and rapidly expanding market. Our unique selling points to customers are summarised below:
• Highly consistent, truly circular pores on a non‐deformable ceramic substrate.
• Pore diameter can be controlled precisely to any value in the range 1 to 50µm. The user can be provided with a set of filters with a range of pore sizes at arbitrary intervals and can select the optimum for each application by experiment.
• High pore density and low aspect ratio are possible, giving vastly improved flow rates at lower pressures.
• The technology is ideas for creating a membrane in which the pore dimension at one surface is smaller than that at the other, reducing the chance of clogging.
• Suitable for large areas filters. Applications are not constrained by a limited area for each membrane.
• High temperature and pressure tolerance.
• The membrane surface is flat, uniform and can be made non-adhesive.
• Pore dimensions can be varied continuously in production without the need for a new set-up or casting of a new mould.
• Significantly less expensive than conventional microsieve membranes.

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