AGILE SCIENCES, INC.
This Small Business Technology Transfer Phase I Project tests the feasibility of applying Agile Sciences' technology to decreasing or eliminating biofouling on filtration membranes used for drinking water purification. The main obstacle in efficiently applying membrane filtration to provide safe drinking water is the buildup of biofilms on the membrane, or "biofouling". Biofouling not only causes a reduction in throughput, but can also result in uneven flow conditions such that spurts of water carrying contaminants may pass through the membrane, thus introducing these contaminants into the drinking water. The research group of Dr. Christian Melander at NC State University has recently identified a series of small organic molecules that can both inhibit and disperse biofilms of bacteria across bacterial order, class, and phylum. Incorporation of these molecules into filtration membranes has the potential to significantly reduce biofilm buildup, thus greatly improving the efficiency and efficacy of the filtration process. Agile Sciences has licensed the technology developed in the Melander Laboratory, and the scope of this Phase I STTR Project is to develop the methodology necessary to incorporate Agile Sciences' anti-biofilm molecules into filtration membranes while retaining their antifouling properties.
Although the availability of safe drinking water is a fundamental human need, exponential population growth as well as the effects of climate change have made drinking water scarce for large portions of the global population. Over 20% of the world's population does not have access to safe drinking water, and millions of people die each year from diseases attributed to contaminated water. A promising technology for delivering clean drinking water is membrane filtration. However, large-scale application of membrane filtration is hampered by the effects of biofouling. The market size for filtration membranes in the United States alone is estimated to be between $2 billion and $4 billion per year. In addition to providing safe drinking water, filtration membranes are used in the semiconductor and pharmaceutical industries to provide ultra-high-purity water, and in treating wastewater. In all of these applications, the efficiency of filtration membranes is limited by biofouling. In addition to the aforementioned industrial and health applications, development of a hydrophobic polymer that is resistant to biofouling would represent a substantial contribution to the field of polymer science.