UNICEF filters use special crystals to reduce industrial emissions


The energy-intensive process of separating and purifying chemicals and gases is a major cause of pollution in industries such as plastic manufacturing. UniSieve aims to reduce carbon emissions and operating costs with its technology, which uses a high-precision membrane with special crystals capable of filtering out specific molecules and ions.

Today, the Zurich-based startup announced that it has raised $5.5 million in seed funding to test and expand its operational capabilities. The round, which UniSieve said was oversubscribed, included participation from Amadeus Apex Technology Fund, Wingman Ventures, CIEH Ventures and Zurcher Kantonalbank.

UniSieve in 2010 It was founded in 2018 by ETH Zürich classmates Samuel Hess and Elia Schneider. During their work, they developed a way to integrate porous crystals called zeolitic materials into polymeric membranes for use in high-precision filters.

They also thought that manufacturing should be balanced. UniSieve is already generating revenue and currently has over 24 customers, including chemical and energy companies. Currently focused on CO2 capture, UniSieve is also testing hydrocarbon (organic compounds made of hydrogen and carbon) separation applications.

Heavy industries, including plastics, chemical and gas plants, have legacy systems that cost billions of dollars, Hess said. These often involve processes for separation and purification that require a lot of thermal energy. Compared to Hess Nespresso capsules, UNICEF’s modular filters can be integrated into existing production systems.

UniSieve’s membrane cartridges

UniSieve stands for “universal sieving” and the technology uses no heat energy. Instead, the membrane separates chemicals, energy carriers and CO2 from the exhaust based on size exclusion. To use another coffee-related metaphor, UNICEF covers are like coffee filters that keep your drink free of compounds. Like Nespresso or printer manufacturers, UniSieve sells containerized separation systems and membrane replacement services.

Asked to explain what he meant by “incorporating zeolitic materials into polymeric machinery,” Hess explained, “It’s like adding special filters to a plastic coating to do a better job of filtering water, filtering gases, and doing other things.”

Hess and Schneider first worked on a water filter membrane before having their “light bulb moment.” The two introduced zeolitic materials, or porous crystals, into polymeric or plastic-like membranes. Hess noted that zeolites have a well-defined pore structure that can trap or selectively trap specific molecules or ions. When added to polymeric membranes, the combination provides better selectivity, flexibility and stability, especially for the separation of gases.

The UniSieve purification and filtration technology start-up team

Team UniSieve

One challenge UniSieve had to solve was that chemicals can vary in size by angstroms (or one-tenth of a nanometer). That means the filters must be extremely accurate. The fact that Hess UNICEF can be precisely calibrated can be adapted to a wide variety of applications, including the detection of other gases in addition to CO2.

Hess said UniSieve competes with other emerging technologies such as distillation or amine scrubbing, which use special solvents to remove acid gas. “Compared to similar systems, UNICEF’s membrane solution is up to 90% more energy efficient and can be applied at small and large scale. There are also a few new companies trying to enter the chemical purification market with membranes,” Hess said. Widespread implementation does not seem realistic.”

In a statement, Lucas Vedder, co-founder of Wingman Ventures, said: “The UNICEF technology solution is tried, tested and ready to deploy and is perfectly positioned to help companies quickly build the most powerful energy-efficient production processes.



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