"... maybe the most important challenge is keep ahead of market trends so we can ride the wave when the time comes."
Today Bio-Based World News is in San Francisco to speak to Sylvatex a really exciting renewable nano-chemistry platform that has applications in solutions for industry processing, materials stability and fuels. But first, our story begins in Bangkok, where as a youngster, CEO and Founder of Sylvatex, Virginia Klausmeier and her family experienced first-hand, life in one of the world’s most polluted cities. On returning to the USA, Virginia followed in her father the late Dr. William Klausmeier’s footsteps studying chemistry to learn further about problems coming from energy-use and pollution.
Dr. Klausemeier’s initial technology focus was on finding a low cost way to add in oxygenates to diesel fuel to have it burn cleaner. From that work the first application was born for these stable nanoparticles, MicroX - a fuel technology that creates a low carbon, low emissions diesel fuel, made from inexpensive, non-toxic, renewable components.
Since starting the company in early 2012, working with strategic partners, Virginia has built Sylvatex to commercialize this technology with the mission to increase the use of renewables globally, to empower a cleaner and healthier future and our Editor Luke Upton looks to find out more....
Along the way Sylvatex has won numerous awards/funding at industry conferences and venture funding competitions (e.g. SXSW ECO, Silicon Valley LAUNCH & Greenstart) and has been featured on international mainstream news outlets (e.g. BBC). As a start-up, Sylvatex has been growing and developing through solid strategic partnerships and collaborations with top tier national labs such as the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL), government bodies such as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and big industry players.
Luke Upton (LU): Thanks for your time today, could you give us a brief overview of what underpins the company?
Virginia Klausmeier (VK): Not a problem Luke, essentially our technology physically changes the way water based (polar) and oil (nonpolar) components interact at the nano-scale. We do this by creating nano-size bubbles (reverse micelles) that hold water based inside and suspend it in oil in a very stable and nano-scaled way granting reproducible and scalable qualities that are important for creating industry applications.
LU: Okay, great and how would you explain this to the man or woman in the street? Or a business journalist with a history rather than science degree…?
VK: Ha! Okay, well an easy way to explain this is with a culinary analogy.
There are two kinds of emulsions, temporary and permanent. A simple vinaigrette is an example of temporary emulsion, you combine the oil and vinegar in a jar, mix them up and after a short time they are separated into two phase again.
Mayonnaise is an example of a permanent emulsion, consisting of egg yolks and oil. Egg yolks and oil would not naturally mix together, but by slowly whisking the oil into the egg yolks, the two liquids form a stable emulsion that won't separate.
Certain substances act as emulsifiers, which means they help the two liquids come together and stay together. In the case of mayonnaise, it is the lecithin in the egg yolks that acts as the emulsifier. Lecithin, a fatty substance soluble in both fat and water, will readily combine with both the egg yolk and the oil, essentially holding the two liquids together. In a stable emulsion, what happens is that droplets of one of the liquids become evenly dispersed within the other liquid.
We use this same emulsion technology just at nano scale and also use green chemistry vs. petroleum based inputs.
LU: Right, so the Sylvatex technology uses this concept but on the nano (extremely small) scale?
VK: Yes, possessing the know-how to optimize at a nano scale and in a replicable and scalable manner adds huge value to our applications as well as strengthens the intellectual property. We can get products through membranes that before would have been repealed (i.e Fuel), create structures in materials at a nano-scale (i.e Lithium-Ion cathode)
LU: This interaction between oil and water happens I’ve heard discussed before I think.
VK: You will have, in industry this interaction happens over and over again; cosmetic products, food industry, lubricants, drug industry, water treatment...but also in engineering processes for machinery performance or technology manufacturing.
Let me give you an example, we use Sylvatex's ( @ ) technology to create a reaction medium from renewable, non-toxic components for cathodes material used in lithium-ion batteries. Ultimately, we could replace the current solution based medium that is mainly comprised of toxic input with a reaction medium that will lead to lower cost, non-toxic/green inputs that could lead to increased performance in the end product so win-win.
LU: Thanks for explaining this, it’s a great development. I’m always interested to hear of the challenges though?
VK: Well… new challenges arise every day when you are playing in global markets. There are many complexities to manage, but in my short time focusing on clean energy/green chemistry I have seen that the industry is advancing and getting much more global traction.
I would say that an immediate challenge that we have is getting into early commercialization in 2017. But maybe the most important challenge is keep ahead of market trends so we can ride the wave when the time comes. We are currently doing this with the transition from fossil fuels to renewable fuels and with greening up lithium ion battery production, which is an industry forecasted to have huge growth for the next 15 years. From there we can expand into other applications - the opportunities are truly endless.
LU: And on the reverse, what are some of the opportunities?
VK: The energy storage market is going to change dramatically in the near future offering some huge potential. And with toxic and non-degradable waste from chemical and energy industries now unacceptable there is a need on a legislative and business level for change, and with this comes opportunity.
LU: Thanks, and just to conclude, I'm always interested to hear your thoughts on how our industry is changing.
VK: Crude oil prices have overall been challenging profitability in bio-based markets in the past months. We consider this a great time to develop sustainable technology solutions and business models that will lead to a greener, cleaner and more sustainable energy market.
Furthermore, legislators have realized that the only way to achieve a long-term inhabitation of this planet is by shifting to a sustainable energy system and many are incentivizing the development of alternative energy markets.
Here in California we’ve seen pioneering moves in the carbon market with The Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), which uses a market-based cap and trade approach to lowering the greenhouse gas emissions from petroleum-based transportation fuels like reformulated gasoline and diesel. Deployments like LCFS and Cap & trade allied with the recent Paris Agreement has been a turning point for the private industry mind-set where clear message was sent to investors across the globe.
LU: Thanks very much, looking forward to keeping up to date with all the latest developments.
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