Molecularly Imprinted Polymers

A New Zealand Research Commercialisation Success Story

The opportunity

Whether you’re collecting precious metals from geothermal flows, removing unwanted herbicide, pesticide and fungicide residues from wine or other beverages or need lower cost by-product capture, filtering for unwanted or valuable materials on an industrial scale presents a variety of challenges.

Traditional methods of material separation for commercial applications have centred on detecting or measuring the presence of a target material.

These methods have limitations such as not being reusable or able to capture down to parts per billion.

Recognising the need for a superior filtering option in the market, WaikatoLink, Prima Group and Ballance teamed up through The Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet), to collaborate on research commercialisation.

Kiwi company invents tiny cleansing 'sponges'

TV3 News Story
Kiwi company invents tiny cleansing 'sponges'
TV3 News - Thursday 12 Feb 2015

A solution delivered in partnership

Together, these organisations have developed innovative polymers that have been molecularly imprinted to filter large volumes of material in solution. Conceptually this works in a similar way to a water cartridge, to capture unwanted or valuable materials.

The polymer can capture about 80% of the targeted material from a flow, even when the targets are in concentrations as low as a few parts per billion. Banks of polymer cartridges in series can capture materials at rates near 100%. Targets bound to the polymers are collected by inducing a sudden pH change.

KiwiNet supported the project with a $162,000 PreSeed investment, from their PreSeed Accelerator Fund (PreSeed) from the Ministry of Science and Innovation, to further prove the technology.  WaikatoLink and Prima Group have matched this with a further investment of $162,000.

Nigel Slaughter, General Manager Commercial, from WaikatoLink says that the fact that all parties had committed resources to the project and that it was already showing commercial promise helped the project succeed in securing the PreSeed investment from the KiwiNet Investment Committee.

“PreSeed investment really covers of the high risk stage of the development and allows us to develop a proof of concept product that’s of interest to companies.”

“Taking a collective view of the merits of various technologies has really paid off,” says John Luxton,CEO of Prima Group.  “Through KiwiNet we’ve been able to combine our expertise, tools and networks and develop a much stronger proposition collectively. The other thing that is particularly satisfying is the opportunity for the commercialisation businesses of Waikato University and Waikato Institute of Technology to work collaboratively on a project that has such potential,” says Mr Luxton.

Mr Luxton says, “The technology has several unique selling propositions that makeit attractive.  The filters are reusable, meaning they are cost effective and great for the environment. They can capture down to parts per billion for exceptional filtering capability. They also allow for highly specific binding delivering superior extraction of the target material.” 

Innovation in action

Ballance Agri-Nutrients Limited, New Zealand's leading fertiliser specialist, was signed on as an industrial partner for the project after seeing the potential of the technology for filtering large volumes of material in solution, which works in a similar way to a water cartridge.  A laboratory has been set up at Ballance with a researcher to assist further development.

“We’re really excited about this new technology.  The removal and concentration of secondary metals will really add value to raw materials that can be used for agriculture.  It will also extend the range of materials we can use in our products,” says Dr Terry Smith, Process and Chemicals Manager at Ballance.

Molecularly imprinted polymers can be designed to bind to a wide range of targets, including metal ions, proteins, phenols, peptides or steroid hormones. Potential applications are far reaching, including the filtration of waste products from tanneries or chemical elements from hydro-power plants - exciting possibilities in creating a cleaner, greener world.

We needed KiwiNet to fund the early-stage commercialisation of the research to the point where we had the evidence industry partners need to start investing themselves. The smoke-taint trial was set up to give that level of proof.

Nigel Slaughter, General Manager Commercial at WaikatoLink.