ZeoVation’s Unique Nanotechnology Attracts Battery Industry, Federal Government Departments, and Beverage Leader for Advanced Applications
What do bacteria, batteries, caffeine, and carbon dioxide reduction all have in common?
Each has technology requirements and challenges that may be contributed by ZeoVation’s “smart” zeolite particles—advanced materials that improve the effectiveness and safety of everyday products while reducing environmental impact.
Zeovation, a spinout from The Ohio State University, started with innovation and scaled through a deliberate, practical focus on applications, commercialization, and value add. Dr. Bo Wang, CEO, and co-founder, obtained his Ph.D. in Chemistry with inventions in zeolite-related materials. Professor Prabir Dutta, Dr. Wang’s thesis advisor, and co-founder, has more than 40 years of experience with patents and technology commercialization. Together they founded Zeovation, initially focusing on academic and industrial research.
Before long, ZeoVation’s founders recognized the commercial potential of their innovation in zeolites for consumer products and anti-microbial applications. ZeoVation works closely with commercial customers and federal agencies to develop and design next-generation products using their “smart” particle technology.
ZeoVation tackles practical applications in four leading industry segments.
“In our market validation,” Dr. Wang said, “we learned that different markets have different pain points. In medicine, it is stopping disease and saving lives. For batteries, it is stability. In coffee, it is the balance between caffeine and flavor. In CO2capture, it is cost.”
ZeoVation’s ready-to-use particles are easy to formulate and cost-effectively integrate into existing manufacturing processes. Controlled-release smart particle solutions can make next-generation products a reality.
Anti-microbial and Anti-virus Applications
Because of COVID, the focus on anti-microbial applications increased. ZeoVation has received a $1,000,000 contract from the National Science Foundation for research and development work on an anti-microbial and anti-viral agent to combat the spread of antibiotic- resistant bacteria and viruses, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
“We have received another one-million-dollar contract from the Air Force for a specific scenario of anti-microbial application,” said Dr. Wang.
ZeoVation is also exploring the use of zeolite products to improve the performance of battery separators—the part of the battery between the anode and cathode that prevents the battery from catching fire and extends the life of the battery.
“Our zeolite particles can be used to make the separator more resistant toward temperature so that it is safer and lasts longer,” said Dr. Wang. “Our materials are so small that they fit in the empty spaces already in a battery. I was at a battery show last month with people from the battery industry. When we talked about the possibilities of improving thermal and mechanical stability with our zeolite materials, I watched their eyes light up.”
ZeoVation is working on a business-to-consumer application—separating caffeine from coffee without affecting the flavor. Decaffeination of coffee is currently accomplished with either organic solvents, very high temperatures, or carbon dioxide superfluid. Each method changes the taste of the coffee.
“A research and development team from a major coffee company is collaborating with us on capturing caffeine from coffee,” said Dr. Wang. “We can modify the zeolites so that they do specific things, like attracting, sticking to, and trapping caffeine molecules.”
ZeoVation has a state goal of contributing to the success of the direct capture of carbon dioxide from the air. “There are some technologies being developed using other materials that generate a large amount of chemical waste in the process,” said Dr. Wang. “Zeolites are stable and can be regenerated easily.
Dr. Wang shares lessons learned in leaving the lab and starting a company.
“In doing marketing and fund-raising for ZeoVation since 2018, I have learned a lot,” said Dr. Wang. “It is not important what we think; it is only important to listen to what the customers say. If they are interested in our technology for their products, we have done the right thing. If they are not interested, it doesn’t matter how smart or involved we think we are. We may not have done it correctly.”
He has suggestions for scientists and entrepreneurs with technical backgrounds. “The most important thing is to think like the businesspeople that they are doing business with,” said Dr. Wang. “Speak the business language. One thing I found important for talented scientists is talking in professional language with professionals and talking in layman terms with non-professionals. When we are trying to commercialize, most of the time, we are talking to people with management, business and marketing and finance backgrounds. We have to understand the market needs and use our scientific expertise to understand what they care about. Business can only be done when we supply something that other people need.”
Dr. Wang says that this mindset change was the hardest thing about starting a company. And what was the easiest? “There are so many resources from all sorts of entities here to help entrepreneurs,” he said. “We have received tremendous help from The Ohio State University, Rev1 Ventures, Mass Challenge, The Air Force, National Science Foundation and many other advisors, experts and entities. At the beginning, I thought I would just start a company and people would come. That was not the case. We took the opportunity to become part of Rev1, and they helped us grow this company. They have so many resources; it really surprised us. We get help from them all the time. Every entrepreneur should talk to them.”