The company recently won a research agreement from AkzoNobel as part of its Imagine Chemistry competition, which was held in June.
Happi spoke with Brian Miller, managing director, uFraction8 to find out how the Imagine Chemistry competition will impact his company's business plan.
Happi: What made uFraction8 enter the competition?
Miller: We were looking for companies that have demonstrated and been recognized as sustainability focused. While searching for credible information on large organizations with proven activity in sustainability, AkzoNobel was found to be one of the Top 5 large companies. Due to their business activities in fine chemicals, it seemed likely they would have interests in biomanufacturing. Browsing the AkzoNobel website, the Imagine Chemistry challenge was discovered. The timing to apply was close and of all the challenges they were looking at, our technology was only a good fit for the more open "sustainable alternatives to current technology". This category was the one with the highest applications (by more than double any other category). After applying, we did some more research into AkzoNobel and were delighted when we heard that we were through to the finals.
Happi: What did you learn from the event?
Miller: While AkzoNobel does not have large biomanufacturing operations currently, they recognize the value this approach promises to enhancing sustainable production practices. Several of their suppliers are active in this space. Through open discussions with the team at AkzoNobel, we learned that they do, in fact, have products and processes that may benefit from our technology, despite not being based on biological production methods.
We also had a chance to experience some of their company culture, which was very impressive. We hope to be able to emulate the exemplary way in which they do things, always keeping safety and sustainability goals at the core of considerations, while managing to create an atmosphere of respect and inclusion. With all of this at play, they have employees that are not only great at their work, but also righteously proud of their company. We very much look forward to working together with them in the future.
Happi: Did anything surprise you at the competition finals?
Miller: It is one thing to talk the talk, but quite another to walk the walk. Both of us (Miller and co-founder & COO Monika Tomecka) were pleasantly surprised at the organization, respect and experience that went into the organization of the event. The amount of staff time and attention to details that made the event run smoothly must have required not only significant investment of time and money, but also true buy in from all of the AkzoNobel staff involved. The whole attitude presented to finalists was definitely one of openness, mutual respect and equality. The workload was intense, not just for finalists, but also for the diverse staff involved in shaping the winning propositions.
Happi: What do you think this competition will do for your company?
Miller: Already, it has added to our credibility. To be able to engage with and enter substantial contracts with a global company within the first quarter of incorporating our business shows that we have the ability to execute and co-operate with large companies.
Through our research agreement, we hope to demonstrate how uFraction8's technology can offer benefits to AkzoNobel products and processes. We took the approach of starting small and slowly building our relationship through incremental steps. We were careful to limit the scope of our proposal to just what would be required to go to the next step. This way there are only small risks involved for both parties and we can deliver quickly the information required to progress to the next level. Ultimately, uFraction8 aims to deliver high quality, high value products to AkzoNobel to deploy into their current processes. Our products should add value to AkzoNobel through improved productivity/performance, reduced costs over lifetime and sustainability benefits.
Happi: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what will your chemistry do for Happi’s readers, who are formulators of personal care products?
Miller: Biomanufacture has long been hailed as the answer to sustainable production, so much so that the term Bio-economy Revolution was coined years ago, and yet it hasn't really gained momentum. Things are starting to pick up, with bioreactor sales experiencing double digit CAGR and new operations opening up, such as TerraVia, supplying sustainable algae derived palm oil and AlgaeCytes, supplying algae-derived EPA Omega-3 oil. The issue has and continues to be one of uncompetitive costs of production. In some markets, such as astaxanthin production and pharmaceutical biologics, the high margins for the products can justify the biomanufacturing approach. For other markets, we hope to tip the balance of the economic scales to favour biomanufacture. uFraction8's success in fielding scalable, low energy dewatering equipment to this industry will open up new markets and increase the capacity of supply from sustainable processes.