University of Liverpool: formaldehyde removal technology
Winner of the Emerging Technologies Competition 2016
Case study: June 2019
Formaldehyde is a potent carcinogen, often present in substantial concentrations in newly built homes and workplaces. It is released as a pollutant from building materials such as paint and plasterboard, as well as many other household products. With formaldehyde levels remaining high in urban areas, it is essential to develop more efficient methods of capturing this harmful chemical.
A team of scientists, led by Professor Andrew Cooper at the University of Liverpool, have developed porous organic cages that can selectively remove low concentrations of formaldehyde from the air.
The team entered the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Emerging Technology competition with an ambition of using the material to produce a domestic air filtration system, hoping to publicise their invention and receive vital feedback from relevant industry.
Since winning the competition
After winning in 2016, the team received £20,000 of funding as well as a brief with competition partner AkzoNobel, which is looking for innovative solutions to tackle formaldehyde pollution. AkzoNobel have already ordered a substantial amount of the team’s material and are testing it as an additive in its decorative paints and wood coatings.
The team has also produced a working prototype air purifier, with the money going towards equipment for an in-house formaldehyde testing facility to validate the technology. They have now built up an indoor air pollutants testing system which can monitor the level of pollution (formaldehyde and other pollutants) as well as evaluate the effectiveness of scavenging materials.
Dr Ming Liu, part of the research team, said: “The competition gave us a route to commercialisation by matching us with an industrial collaborator in a sector that we want to work in. We also attended a two-day entrepreneurial training course in Cambridge which helped us develop insights into identifying our customers, crafting our business model, putting together their entrepreneurial team, and raising financial capital. The competition opened many doors for us to be able to get in touch with many big names in the industry, such as AkzoNobel and Unilever.”
As part of the prize, the team were mentored by Gareth Crapper - research manager at AkzoNobel - who provided key feedback to guide their R&D going forward. He commented: "Eliminating formaldehyde emissions is a current challenge in several of our market sectors and this technology was not on our radar until the Emerging Technology Competition.”
Where are they now?
The company is now in the process of developing its cage technology into platform technology, taking the advice of a judge in the Emerging Technology competition. By fine tuning the size or functionality of the cage molecules, the team can develop new materials that capture or detect different pollutants, many of which are challenging to detect using current technology. An example of this is the recent development of another cage material that can efficiently capture radon, which causes lung cancer.
Today, the team is speaking with a number of large companies on how the technology can benefit their businesses. The team is also working closely with the local city council to raise awareness of air pollution, especially the often-neglected indoor pollution issue.
They have also been selected to submit an application for the Innovate UK ICURe (Innovation to commercialisation of university research) scheme to help commercialise the technology through start-up funding, following a three month successful market validation discovery journey.
What the team say
The competition has given us a route to commercialisation by matching us with an indurial collaborator in a sector that we want to work in.
University of Liverpool...3 years on
Mentoring and advice from AkzoNobel
A new prototype
Used the competition prize money to move from proof of concept to a working prototype and have now built up an indoor air pollutants testing system which can monitor the level of pollution
Alongside selling their product to AkzoNobel, the team are now speaking with a number of large companies and local councils to raise awareness of air pollution