Poland’s innovation funding agency, NCBiR, released a list of 110 projects accepted to be funded through their prestigious “Fast Track” program. Sitting at Rank 5, with a score of 16/16 given by a panel of diverse and experienced professionals, is uFraction8 PL, our wholly owned Polish subsidiary. Through the Fast Track program, uFraction8 will receive funding to deliver a project worth over €2 million over the course of the next two and a half years.
The announcement follows hot on the heels of receiving the Nature Spinoff “One to Watch” award and obtaining grants of our core patent in the EU, the US, and Japan. Our founders, Dr’s Monika Tomecka and Brian Miller, have a strong track record of attracting financial support, but this achievement could be the tipping point in delivering on our vision to “make sustainability affordable.”
What caught the eye of the NCBiR panel is the potential for uFraction8’s technology to serve as a basis for scalable, energy efficient bioprocessing systems and thereby unlock bio-economies of scale. Our devices – which fit in the palm of your hand – use an advanced technology called microfluidics to transform the way liquids are processed. But what really makes us special is how thousands of these devices can be stacked into dense arrays, harnessing the small-scale power of microfluidics to tackle large-scale, real-world problems.
Our goal is to use this new mechanism to make it cheaper and easier to harvest microbes and make products like food, chemicals, and medicines. By doing so, our technology can help deliver against UN sustainable development goals by making circular economies affordable and supplementing food production without competing with “traditional” agricultural resources.
One type of microbe we target is microalgae. Microalgae are tiny plants that grow suspended in water, such as lakes and oceans, and need just water, light, and nutrients to grow. While they are perhaps best known from algal blooms, which occur when there are too many in one place and which can be harmful to the environment, each of the world’s +80,000 species of microalgae also produces useful chemicals and products, such as natural colourings, healthy oils, and proteins.
Because microalgae can grow in environments where conventional agriculture is difficult to impossible, such as saltwater and even in deserts, they can complement existing agricultural systems rather than compete with them for limited resources like fresh water and fertile land. However, until now the cost of large-scale cultivation of microalgae has been too high, largely due to the cost of harvesting the microscopic cells from tons of saltwater.
This is where our partners at Poland’s Lodz University of Technology (and NCBiR) saw an opportunity for uFraction8’s technology to lend a hand. Working with fluid handling specialists from the university, we are building an “at scale” deployment of our modular microfluidic harvesting system, with the aim of reaching 100 modules working together synchronously. Partners Heriot Watt University, the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre, and the Institute of Chemical Engineers are offering additional support to the project.
The “Fast Track” project funding will cover R&D as well as product development and certifications, with the goal of bringing our technology to market in the form of a compliant product. By reaching the “Fast Track” finish line, uFraction8 will be well on its way to shaking up the world of bioprocessing.