Nanomox is seeking to unlock the capability of nanomaterials through a novel chemical process.
Having researched how inorganic materials such as zinc oxide are currently manufactured, he found out that about 99% of these materials are created at very high temperatures. “The process we had discovered does not require high temperatures,” says Francisco. “And it can also control for the shape of the nanoparticles which allows greater potential to tailor the materials for different applications and enhance performance.”
Another advantage of the process is that it can use waste materials rather than rely on pure metals. “This means we can have a circular approach,” explains Francisco. “For example, we can recover the zinc from batteries or recover metallic waste from the steel industry and transform them into advanced materials rather than sending these waste materials to the landfill.” Alongside this the process generates hydrogen as a by-product, adding another potential environmental advantage to the novel approach.
As the process is essentially an oxidation process, it can technically produce many different materials and minerals with a large number of applications. Nanomox has initially decided to focus on zinc oxide because it is already widely in use in industries such as cosmetics and rubber.
Where did the idea originate?
CEO and Co-founder Francisco came across the approach during his PhD in Chemical Engineering at Imperial and, seeing the promise in the process, applied to the Techcelerate programme to develop it commercially.
The chemical process pioneered by Nanomox was discovered by Francisco during his search for materials able to resist corrosion by ionic solvents as they broke down biomass into biofuel. He was initially disappointed as all the metals he tested were corroded by the solvents, implying it would be impossible to build a commercial plant to contain the process at scale. However, when he revisited the samples to better understand the corrosion process he noticed something spectacular under the microscope. “In the case of zinc oxide, I saw beautiful hexagons and nanorods with different morphologies,” explains Francisco. “I thought it looked amazing and beautiful but as my background was not in material sciences, I didn’t understand the full significance of this discovery.”
How did the team meet? Do you have any advisors?
Nanomox incorporated over a year ago and there are currently three people in the company: Francisco, his PhD supervisor Professor Jason Hallett, and a corrosion expert from Sheffield University Dr Kyra Sedransk Campbell who Francisco first approached when he was testing metals and alloys.
Where are you now and where do you plan to be?
Having validated the technology in the lab and filed for a patent, the company are now planning to demonstrate they can produce at scale. Like many Deep Tech ventures they are at a challenging point in their journey where they need to demonstrate they can scale up to attract investment but this in itself requires capital for equipment and facilities. The company are now looking to raise money to build their first demonstration plant so they can start to validate the product for its intended markets.
What support have you had from Imperial?
To help overcome these and other challenges the company has taken part in the Imperial Venture Mentoring Service and are still working with mentors Ian Edmondson and Dr Peter Collins. “Our mentors are super helpful,” says Francisco. “And since we have had them on board the company has made a lot of progress.”
“My background is completely technical,” says Francisco. “And this was the first time I had created a venture so I didn’t have any formal training or idea about how you take the technology from the lab and make it into a commercial success. The Techcelerate programme provided fantastic guidance on how to gauge industry interest. It was extremely useful, enabling me to engage with potential customers and partners in a very productive and valuable way.”
What advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?
“This is a never-ending journey and there is always more to learn,” says Francisco. “My advice to anyone looking to become an entrepreneur is ‘Don’t give up.’ It’s a lot of work and emotionally it’s very stressful as you are constantly exposing your ideas to other people but there are many victories along the way that make it worthwhile.”