Puraffinity tackles global water scarcity with game-changing innovation
“We’re thrilled about our growth prospects and the opportunity to develop into an emerging materials science leader with UK based manufacturing. We’re also looking to continue working with the team at the National Measurement Laboratory, hosted at LGC, who have become a part of the extended Puraffinity network,”
Henrik Hagemann, Chief Executive Officer at Puraffinity.
Puraffinity and the National Measurement Laboratory (NML), hosted at LGC, are tackling the global challenge of water scarcity through an innovation able to remove harmful chemicals that cause cancer and may increase the risk of COVID-19.
Puraffinity, which was set up in 2015, is on a mission to use cutting-edge materials science with creative engineering to solve a host of environmental challenges and bring benefits to human health.
It is focused on delivering a sustainable solution to treating a group of 4,700 manmade industrial chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that are 50 times more toxic than arsenic.
These chemicals have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the world since the 1940s. They are often known as ‘forever’ chemicals as they contain carbon-fluorine bonds, which are one of the toughest chemical bonds in organic chemistry.
PFAS have been linked to a number of severe health issues, including several types of cancer and probable links between PFAS exposure and the severity of COVID-19 are now being investigated.
Almost all UK, EU, and US citizens have these non-naturally occurring compounds present in their blood from long term water exposure and PFAS are now widely regarded as the most severe global water quality challenge in modern times.
With water scarcity a high priority global risk, with recent trends showing that demand is expected to outstrip supply by 40% in 2030, and water quality also severely compromised, there has been a major focus by regulators to combat the existence of PFAS.
Prior to starting its Analysis for Innovators (A4I) project, Puraffinity had developed extensive materials for targeted capture of high impact contaminants in water, taking the form of adsorbent granules.
These showed superior performance and significantly improved sustainability compared to industry-leading solutions.
But the critical bottleneck for the business was gaining detailed insight and assurance on the product’s stability and safety. It also saw a growth opportunity to take a more data-driven approach to its development work where it had already carried out proof-of-concept work to embed data-driven analytics into its Design, Build, Test and Learn cycles.
Puraffinity lacked access to critical equipment and needed deep sector expertise to develop the necessary protocols to implement a data-driven approach.
It partnered with the NML to speed up its development cycle and improve the data integrity of its quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) processes for high throughput testing of new adsorbents.
The project was centred on its second patent family, a functional group called polyethyleneimine (PEI).
The solution focused on developing two analysis methods. Firstly, a highly-accurate, detailed method using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) to thoroughly characterise the reagent and how it is functionalised was developed.
Secondly, a rapid quantification method using UV-Vis spectroscopy was established that allowed reaction monitoring and can be used by Puraffinity for QA/QC testing during the production process and product composition.
The project has delivered a step-change in Puraffinity’s ability to deliver pioneering precision materials science that uses a data-driven, evidence-based approach to developing innovative solutions to today’s major societal challenges.
The development of a robust analytical method was key to Puraffinity being able to design and synthesise, quickly and effectively, the high performing materials that it is seeking to commercialise.
The methods developed significantly de-risked the product development process; reduced discovery-design-synthesis cycles; facilitated more precise production scale-up; mitigated batch variations; and increased yields.
In addition, it has improved the data assurance it can provide prospective clients on the safety and the long-term stability of the products, a crucial element in commercialising public health innovations through water treatment.
It has resulted in Puraffinity securing a £1.54m Innovate UK Continuity Loan and scaling its UK manufacturing capability to 5 tonnes per year, equating to a 20 times increase from Puraffinity’s starting volume at the beginning of the project.
It has also increased the international competitiveness of Puraffinity, due to an improved cost basis and much lower labour usage, and unlocked market applications with an estimated global potential of £5 billion.
In addition, it has progressed a potential solution to the critical global challenge of water scarcity and taken an important step in tackling the impact of COVID-19.
The goal for Puraffinity now is to implement the analytical methods developed as a streamlined product development design precision tool, accelerating the commercialisation of its PFAS removal solutions, and open new client demonstration sites in the US and Europe.