Back 2021.06.10

An aerogel technology reducing oil pollution: promoting green ports

Speeding up the cleaning of oil spills at sea and in ports

Inobiostar, a spin-off founded by Klaipėda University researchers and participating in the TechHub start-up pre-accelerator of the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA), has created an aerogel – a material that allows to remove oil pollutants from the environment quickly, efficiently and in environmentally friendly way. Compared to similar products on the market, “InnoAerogel” is sustainable, more than twice as light and efficient, and can be reused up to 5 times.

‘The Baltic Sea is a semi-enclosed sea with only  3 % water exchange rate,  that leads to long-term accumulation of pollutants Due to the large and growing traffic of oil transporters, the likelihood of accidents is expected to increase significantly over the next decade and so will the risk to the ecosystem and human health’, says Klaipėda University researcher, founder of the spin-off company Inobiostar dr. Tatjana Paulauskienė.

According to the founder, the aerogel’s low density and extremely high porosity and surface area make it an excellent absorber of oil and can be used to clean up oil spills at sea and in ports. The material could also be used in ships, ship repair, manufacturing plants, petrol stations and even car repair workshops. In addition, her colleagues (leader of the group – Marija Katarzyte) are currently working on integrating microorganisms isolated from the Baltic Sea into the structure of the aerogel, which could further speed up the cleaning of oil spills and solve the problem of disposing of used aerogel material.

‘After sharing the results with the international scientific community, we received a lot of attention and calls to commercialise the idea. A team of intellectual property advisors from the European Commission’s Intellectual Property Booster Programme in England (ClearViewIP) studied our innovation for several months and concluded in their report that the idea should be patented as soon as possible’, says Tatjana Paulauskienė.

A result of effective co-creation between public sector, scientists and a startup

Together with the University of Klaipėda, the company has benefited from the MITA-managed action “Promoting commercialisation and internationalisation of R&D results” and will use the technology developed in the project to develop the InnoAerogel product. The innovation has already attracted the attention of Lithuanian and foreign manufacturers, consumers and investors. The InnoAerogel technology is expected to be licensed in the Baltic Sea region from 2022.

Innovation and entrepreneurship experts of MITA projects “InterInoLT” and “Inospurtas” as well as TechHub pre-accelerator mentors help the start-up prepare for licensing.

TechHub is a project which main purpose is break down barriers and stereotypes related to collaboration between startups and the public sector. The aim of the experts in this project is to encourage researchers, scientists, students and businesses to develop innovative ideas, provide their teams with support and opportunities for intensive growth.

‘The intensive programme and the professional weekly one-on-one consultations with the MITA mentors and lecturers helped us to learn about the innovation to be developed from an entrepreneurial point of view. We were working together to understand and experience the path of commercialisation of the idea: to clarify the unique selling proposition, to identify a potential customer and market size, to analyse the competitive environment, to properly position the product in the target market, finally, to present it to investors. Having answered these questions for ourselves, we feel ready for the commercialisation of InnoAerogel and other innovations that are still in the making in our minds’, rejoices Tatiana about the benefits of the MITA TechHub Pre-Accelerator project.

The technology application is filed with the European Patent Office, and the use of the invention will undoubtedly provide a significant competitive advantage for InnoAerogel.

The global market for industrial sorbents has been estimated at 4 billion USD in 2020. According to the market research company Markets and Markets, it is expected to grow to 5.7 billion USD in the next 6 years. The market for sustainable and environmentally friendly sorbents in Europe was 157 million USD in 2020. By 2027, the market is expected to more than double to 351 million USD.

Photo: MITA