As chemical engineers and chemists, we often don’t get to see what we create – molecules are too small to see and chemical processes often happen in closed systems. As such, when we do get to see the fruits of our labor, the result can be incredibly exciting and motivating.
This was the case in the founding of my company, Sironix Renewables. During my PhD at the University of Minnesota, I worked with a team of scientists to develop new, eco-friendly replacements to existing chemicals and fuels. The process involved making renewably-sourced products, like fuels, detergents, and plastics. Finding a suitable replacement to an existing product is great, but for us the ‘holy grail’ was finding something that worked better than what existed.
One of these ‘holy grail’ moments struck us when we were looking at a set of vials – all but one was filled with a cloudy, white liquid. We were looking at the hard water stability of new detergent molecules for things like spray cleaners and laundry detergents, and the cloudy, white liquid meant it didn’t work well. The one clear vial, however, was our new detergent molecule and it performed flawlessly. This was one of the few moments where we got to see the result of our work.
Since founding the company in 2016, we’ve worked to scale up our technology and develop it for application in different consumer products. The advantage of our technology is not only that we can make something that is more environmentally-friendly, but also that it outperforms what exists now with its improved hard water stability. Hard water, or tap water containing calcium and magnesium, is common around the globe and it’s a big problem for industries that make cleaning products, agricultural chemicals, and even paints and coatings. By making small changes to the chemical structure of our product, we can tune it for each of these different applications.
Our current work at Sironix focuses on aligning the technology with market needs in different applications. This requires a unique combination of engineering knowledge, business experience, partnerships, and research funding to do so. For a small company this is a big challenge, but it’s incredibly motivating and exciting when they all come together. We’ve participated in startup courses, business accelerators and competitions to improve our business strategy, and we attend conferences and develop scientific collaborations to improve our technology. We’ve also been fortunate to receive grant funds from the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation that helps us develop the technology.
Ultimately, while we can’t always directly see our chemicals, the opportunity we have to create something new and impactful for the world is the best way to see chemical engineering and chemistry in action.
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