The startup that sprouted from the laboratory to tackle the ‘plague’ of microplastics


Madrid

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The mechanisms for converting laboratory projects into products on the market are not always well-oiled in Spain.
The limited transfer to society of the research results
It is precisely one of the subjects that chokes us, although luckily there are also examples that show that the knowledge illuminated in the university can be transferred to the business fabric and solve real problems. It is the case of Captoplastic, a startup that aims to protect waters from microplastics, that is, those with a size less than 5 millimeters. Considered as a
emerging pollutant that puts human health and the ecosystem at risk
, experts estimate that around 230,000 tons of these particles currently circulate in the seas and oceans.

The germ of the company emerged in 2018 from the hand of the professor Jose Antonio Casas and the teachers Zahara Martinez and Macarena Munoz, from the Department of Chemical Engineering of the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM), who developed the concept of a pioneering technology in our country, capable of separating these tiny pieces, retaining them practically in their entirety and thus avoiding their diffusion in aquatic environments such as sea water, wastewater, fresh water, food and drinking water, as well as bottled water, running water, industrial water, etc. The following year they applied for the patent and got a first investment of 180,000 euros from the BeAble Capital fund.

After the litmus test of financing passed, the company was founded in June 2020, which is determined to end the presence of these microspheres in seas and oceans. “Through a selective agglomeration technique, we trap the microplastic particles and remove them without undergoing modifications that affect their structure, which allows them to be recovered and revalued in later phases ”, he explains Rachel ParraCEO of the firm, which is building a technology demonstration plant at a capacity of one cubic meter per hour. “We already have the design of the next levels of scaling,” he says.

Captoplastic’s solution is flexible, adjusting to customer needs. «No need to modify your plant for our technology to enterbut it fits within your system. The water they generate passes through our technology as if it were a black box and comes out clean of microplastics», Details Parra. Another important point is that all consumables used in the process can be reused. “It is one of the inventions that we have developed during this year of work and that we will soon patent. It is about shutting down the entire system and making a technology that is zero waste ”, he adds.

Raquel Parra, CEO of the company, together with professor Macarena Muñoz
Raquel Parra, CEO of the company, together with professor Macarena Muñoz – José Ramón Ladra

In parallel, the startup is committed to a second line of business: the development of a standardized method for quantification of microplastics. “It is much more robust and, unlike other methods, the human factor does not intervene”, details the CEO. Within the next three years, the startup aims to attract 1.4 million euros of investment, convinced that your value proposition will be well received. “There is interest on the part of the companies and, in addition, the regulation will help the growth of this market. Europe is already moving to control the issue, “says Parra.

The challenge of climbing

This possible legal framework will suppose, in his opinion, a great opportunity for the project to expand in the countries of the Old Continent. «There are more than 18,000 water treatment plants, about 2,500 water purification facilities in factories, in the industrial part, and about 840 million domestic washing machines “, he recalls. In addition to exploring the European market, the company intends to bring its technology to companies on other continents. “We were born with the idea of ​​growing around the world,” says the executive director of the firm.

Its potential clients are industrialists (they have treatment plants within their facilities that prevent the emission or control over the emission of pollutants to the environment), companies dedicated to water treatment and washing machines. Captoplastic has already closed an agreement with a client and is waiting for it to be awarded a public license to start working. “We are hand in hand with many of the main actors and we have treated real samples that they have given us, so We have taken advantage of this year to be very close to the market. We have verified that it is a technology that is claimed ”, says Parra.

Captoplastic has won for its technology, among more than 645 proposals, the EAwards Spain 2021 Award from the Everis Foundation, which will provide the company with 20,000 euros, an acceleration program and a pass to the international final of the award.

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