Biorefining startup Chrysalix Technologies has won significant funding from the EU to scale up its business.
The European Innovation Council’s Accelerator programme have awarded a €2.3m grant which will be accompanied by additional investment from the European Investment Bank and others investors.
Founded in 2017 by Professor Jason Hallett and Dr Florence Gschwend and from the Department of Chemical Engineering, and Dr Agi Brandt-Talbot from the Department of Chemistry, Chrysalix Technologies are using waste wood and agricultural by-products as well as sustainably grown biomass to produce bioplastics, biofuels, biomaterials and greener chemicals.
Their innovative BioFlex process separates the different naturally occurring chemical components of wood, which are lignin, cellulose, and hemicelluloses. Once isolated individually, these components can then be used for a variety of applications such as as bio-chemicals, precursors for plastics or as new materials themselves.
While the process can in principle be used for any type of woody material, the team are developing the process specifically for materials that are currently under-used, such as sawdust and nonrecyclable waste wood from the construction and demolition industries.
Professor Hallett said: “We’re absolutely over the moon about it. This funding was essential to scaling up the company from a tiny start-up to a proper company that will be able to have a real impact.”
Dr Brandt-Talbot added: “After 12 years of development work, mainly at the lab scale, initially working with milligrams of materials, this funding will allow us to produce BioFlex cellulose and lignin at the tonne scale. This is hugely exciting and a life dream come true.”
The team will use the funding to build a fully functional pilot plant that will be thousands of times larger than what they can currently do in the lab.
Professor Hallett said: “After the pilot studies, we’ll be able to design and build the first, of many, full scale BioFlex plants that can turn waste wood into loads of useful renewable materials, fuels and chemicals.
“We’re so thrilled to be able to see technology we developed in the labs here at Imperial translated across to huge commercial scale and have real impact.”
Dr Brandt-Talbot added: “The blended finance funding will also allow us to prepare everything that is needed for our first customer to build the first BioFlex commercial scale plant, and achieve a successful launch of the technology.
“The ultimate ambition for our technology is to give a second life to millions of tonnes of waste wood all over the world. Our customers will convert their local waste wood streams into useful sustainable products which they can sell on the market for competitive prices.”
Europe’s most innovative startups
The European Innovation Council aims to turn Europe’s scientific discoveries into businesses that can scale up faster.
The pilot phase was launched in 2017 to identify and fund Europe’s most innovative startups and SMEs.
Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “The future European Innovation Council will turn far more of Europe’s world class science and start-ups to global technology leaders.
“I am glad that this first offer of combined grant and equity financing saw such a high demand from Europe’s start-ups and SMEs.
“This confirms that the European Innovation Council is filling a gap in funding, and that it is right to set it up as a fully-fledged initiative under the next EU budget.”