European funding boost for Imperial clean-tech spinout Lixea

28 May 2021 | Network Updates | Update from Imperial College London
These updates are republished press releases and communications from members of the Science|Business Network

A company founded at Imperial is set to scale-up its innovative method for producing sustainable biochemicals, materials and fuels.

Lixea has closed a €2 million investment from the European Innovation Council Fund (EIC Fund) pilot. The investment complements the previous EIC grant of €2.3 million as part of the European Commission’s support to scale and commercialise the Lixea technology.

The company was founded by in 2017 by Professor Jason Hallett and Dr Florence Gschwend (Department of Chemical Engineering) and Dr Agi Brandt-Talbot (Department of Chemistry).

Lixea’s patented technology converts wood waste or agricultural residues into high-quality intermediates for sustainable chemicals, materials and fuels using novel, low-cost and environmentally friendly solvents, known as ionic liquids.

Ultimately, the technology will help in the transition to a zero-pollution society, where waste products from industry are utilised in a circular bioeconomy.

Lixea’s CEO, Krisztina Kovacs-Schreiner, commented: “This is a significant milestone not only for Lixea, but for the biorefining industry as a whole. We feel that we are approaching a breakthrough as sustainability beyond just carbon emissions is becoming an increasing concern and other alternatives to fossil-based materials need to be developed. The endorsement of the EIC brings additional credibility to Lixea as a technology innovator as well as a welcome support for our company’s vision.”

Towards a pilot-scale facility

The innovative BioFlex process pioneered by Lixea separates the different naturally occurring chemical components of wood, which are lignin, cellulose, and hemicelluloses.

Once isolated individually, these components can then be used for a variety of applications such as bio-chemicals, precursors for plastics or as new materials themselves.

While the process can in principle be used for any type of woody material, the team are developing the process specifically for materials that are currently under-used, such as sawdust and nonrecyclable waste wood from the construction and demolition industries.

Lixea is building on its previous lab and testbed-based work by constructing and operating a pilot-scale facility to prove the scalability and commercial viability of its core technology. The pilot plant, under construction, will be based in Bäckhammar, Sweden.

Dr Florence Gschwend, Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Chemical Engineering and co-founder and CTO of Lixea, commented on the recent funding: “The convertible loan, which is now completing our funding for the pilot plant, comes as a huge game changer to us. After having operated on a shoe-string budget for the first three years after spinning-out, the funding allows us to grow into a company with the team and resources needed to take this next step. It has been a very unexpected journey from doing a PhD to running a small enterprise to now receiving this multi-million funding. I am very grateful for the support the College has provided along the way.”

A supportive innovation ecosystem  

Lixea has received support at Imperial from We Innovate, a pre-accelerator programme for women founders; Techcelerate, a programme for enterprising postdocs who want to take their research out of the lab; and the Climate-KIC Accelerator.

The Grantham Institute - Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial was a founding partner of the Climate Knowledge Innovation Community (Climate-KIC) and has delivered the successful Climate-KIC Accelerator programme since 2012 - supporting 64 start-ups in securing $275 million of investment and creating 1200 jobs.

Professor Richard Templer, Director of Innovation at the Grantham Institute and Hofmann Chair in Chemistry, was instrumental in establishing the Climate-KIC accelerator programme. He comments: “We started this journey a decade ago to help our inventive colleagues, students and people outside the university sector to take ideas to address climate change and make them real. The only way we’re going to solve our most pressing challenges related to climate change is to have the technologies and services to hand that are going to help us change the way we behave, do our work, live our lives and stop polluting the planet.

“A great many of the startups we have supported are now having a real and tangible impact towards this mission, and Lixea is a prime example. I wish the team there every success, as they look to scale-up their innovate technology.”

Professor Templer and Lixea co-founder Dr Jason Hallett discussed climate innovation in a recent podcast:

This article was first published on May 24 by Imperial College London.

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