ZeoVation’s Nanozeolites Improve Products from Sunscreens to Water Filtration Systems

ZeoVation, an applied materials spinout from The Ohio State University, brings innovation to diverse industries, from personal care to purification.

The startup’s patented manufacturing process efficiently produces unique synthetic nano-materials called nanozeolites. These nanozeolites uniquely improve on the already very useful characteristics of manufactured zeolites as well as zeolites found in nature.

So, then you might ask, what the heck is a zeolite?

Zeolites are stable mineral constructs with numerous very small pores. (Their scientific name is microporous crystalline aluminosilicates.) In Greek, the word means boiling stones. In techno-speak, zeolites are microporous crystalline aluminosilicates. In case you aren’t in the mood to channel your inner-scientist, think of zeolites as stable mineral constructs with numerous very small pores of molecular dimensions. In addition to zeolites found in nature, there are dozens of manufactured (or synthetic) zeolites.

Zeolites, whether natural or synthetic, are structured in such a way that they can act like a sieve and “trap” some molecules and release others in their place. Common applications for zeolites are in water softeners and filters, as catalysts for the manufacture of gasoline, as phosphate replacements in detergents, or to trap odor molecules in kitty litter.

ZeoVation’s unique, cost-effective, efficient synthesis process addresses the manufacturing challenges associated with producing synthetic nanozeolites.

“We are proving that we make can make nanozeolites efficiently and in quantity,” said Bo Wang, Ph.D. and ZeoVation co-founder. ZeoVation’s first target market is the sunscreen segment of the personal care industry.

Bringing technical innovation an industry ripe for new technology

“Zeolites on a large micron scale have been used in water and gas purification processes for the last twenty years,” said Steve Jones, ZeoVation CEO. “But, in skin care, there really has been no technical innovation, other than how products were formulated, for example, a little more or less oily, or a spray sunscreen or spray-on tan. Our nanozeolites solve some interesting problems.” Avobenzone, an active ingredient in many sunscreen products, is an effective UV absorber. However, avobenzone is easily destroyed by sunlight. That’s why sunscreen products need to be reapplied frequently. To complicate things further, avobenzone as well as chemicals used to stabilize sunscreens, are known in larger quantities to be toxic.

The avobenzone molecule, which is about 1.3 nanometers in diameter, fits perfectly through ZeoVation’s 1.3 nanometer pore. “The pores in our nanozeolites are strictly defined with the same shape, size, and direction, and the particles are significantly smaller than common natural and synthetic zeolites,” said Wang.

From inside a nanozeolite, the avobenzone absorbs the UV rays without being destroyed. “If we encapsulate avobenzone in our nanozeolite material, then it is stabilized,” Wang said. “There is no need to add toxic stabilizers, and because the avobenzone is encapsulated in the nanozeolites, it never touches the skin.”

The chemical composition of the zeolites that do touch the skin is aluminium silicate—like the clay in the soil.

“The sunscreen industry hasn’t changed the active ingredients in chemical sunscreens in years,” said Wang. “Now, with our nanozeolites, we can help manufacturers create a long-lasting and non-toxic sunscreen. No one else can do this in the market today.”

Though the manufacturing and handling of the nanoparticles is unique, Wang says it’s not necessarily complicated. ZeoVation’s manufacturing process integrates smoothly and increases yield.

“Everything in our set up is commercially available,” he said. “Our innovation is the process we have designed.” ZeoVation is currently shipping small quantities of the nanozeolites.

Starting up ZeoVation has been a process of teamwork and collaboration.

Bo Wang came to OSU for graduate study, where he worked with Dr. Prabir K. Dutta, Ph.D. and Distinguished University Professor Chemistry and Biochemistry, also a co-founder of ZeoVation. The two of them decided they wanted to commercialize their discoveries

“We contacted Rev1 Ventures and went through Rev1’s Customer Learning Lab (formerly named Concept Academy) with this sunscreen idea” said Wang. “With Rev1, we have validated the market, proven the concept and recruited our CEO. I want to also give much credit to Ohio State. In this process, they have given us tremendous help. They licensed us the patents and are also allowing us to use some of their facilities. We have two big supporters, one in Rev1 and one in OSU.”

ZeoVation is currently offering ready-to-use nanozeolites and hierarchical zeolites for purchase in small quantities for research and product development. In addition to sun care products, ZeoVation has identified future applications in coatings, water purification, and health care.

Learn more about how Rev1’s Customer Learning Lab helps entrepreneurs validate their markets and business plan.