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Friday, April 29, 2016

Meet the Venture Further 2016 Research category finalists

Sustainable Cold Storage 


Vinod Rajan is a postgraduate research student at Alliance Manchester Business School. Through his business, Sustainable Cold Storage, he has developed a new system of energy generation that reuses excess heat generated by refrigeration units.

Globally, 30% of all energy is used on refrigeration. Running 24/7, cold storage systems come with high operating costs, placing significant financial burdens on the companies using them. Vinod’s method, however, offers a means of reducing energy consumption, lowering costs for businesses and creating a sustainable system of energy generation, whereby excess heat is converted back into electricity, and used to power the refrigeration system.

“This has the potential to be a disruptive technology in the industry,” Vinod says. “Fresh produce worth £4.4 billion is lost every year in India, as a direct result of poor refrigeration – amounting to 50% of the country’s food. In the UK, a target has been set to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, an ambitious figure. My technology can contribute to solving these issues, and more.

“Reusing waste heat will help reduce the growing problem of global warming, controlling the excess heat dissipated into the atmosphere. It will help to cut emissions by producing a sustainable source of electricity. It also gives businesses greater capacity to store food, reducing the significant wastage that happens all over the world.”

Vinod’s present focus is the commercial sector, and he is developing the product for use in supermarkets and shopping marts, but he eventually hopes to have the product available for home refrigeration and cooling systems: “This would be particularly useful in tropical countries, where air conditioning places a big strain on energy grids.”

Currently in the research stages, Vinod is working to build a prototype. He says winning Venture Further would serve as a huge boost to the businesses, particularly in this stage of its development: “Any technology is always going to be a risky venture, due to the scale of research that is needed, as well as the extensive development and testing stages, so adequate funding is vital to ensure its success.”


Volatronics 


Aiah Khateb is currently reading a PhD in Mycology. During her study, she realised that there was a gap in the market for tests that accurately distinguish between tuberculosis and aspergillosis. 

“Tuberculosis and aspergillosis share similar clinical symptoms, and each represents a global threat to public health,” Aiah explains. “Each year, over 8 million people are diagnosed with tuberculosis, and in excess of 2 million deaths are caused by aspergillosis.”

Currently, diagnostic processes are slow and inefficient, and doctors typically require at least four separate tests to confirm infections. These tests are expensive, time-consuming and invasive, as well as highly inaccurate. Instead, Aiah and her team set out to develop a non-invasive and more efficient means of diagnosing the diseases. 

The device will take the form of a mask, which patients breathe into, and analysis of the breath will produce a result in one to five minutes – a huge reduction on the 30 days required for culturing using current methods. 

“This method will allow doctors to detect the diseases much earlier, meaning we will be able to reduce the number of patients suffering from complications, treat the diseases much more effectively, and, most importantly, prevent unnecessary deaths,” Aiah says. “Furthermore, current testing methods require specially-equipped laboratories and clinicians with specific expertise, but with our device there is simply a light telling you whether you have the disease or not, meaning no specialised knowledge is required.”

Following the formation of a partnership with a university in Thailand, Aiah and her team will now develop a prototype, which will be launched in the UK. They will work alongside highly specialised physicians based at Wythenshaw Hospital through the optimisation process, using samples to refine the device.

Eventually the product will be refined to resemble a breathalyser, with results able to be displayed on a mobile phone or tablet.

With 95% of all cases of tuberculosis occurring in developing countries, the team hopes to target the product at India and China, following the successful development of the prototype. The device does not require electricity to run, meaning it will be available even to rural communities. “This technology could revolutionise the diagnostic world as we know it,” Aiah says.



CryoPhyc 

While studying for his PhD in Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science, Leopoldo Rodríguez identified that one of the biggest barriers to progress for scientists working with microalgae is the difficulty of preservation, and the reliance on subculturing for the propagation of specimens. In response, he is now researching a method of freezing algae to save scientists time and resources, through his start-up CryoPhyc.

Microalgae is currently attracting a great deal of attention due to its versatility. There are over 30,000 known species, all with different properties, and it has the potential to be used in fields as diverse as biofuels, pharmaceuticals, animal feeds and fertilisers. With the industry growing at such a fast pace, Leopoldo feels that a more efficient method of preservation is needed.

Researchers spend tens of thousands of hours per year subculturing their microalgae, as this is currently the only method of preservation. Instead, Leopoldo has now developed a kit that will allow users to freeze both marine and fresh water algae, something that was not previously possible.

He says: “Freezing living cells results in the formation of ice crystals. These become like small blades, which can destroy cell membranes irreversibly and kill microalgae. Our kit will tackle this problem through creating a barrier, preventing external ice crystals from breaking the cell, and through a specialised compound that drives water out of the cells, stopping ice crystals from forming inside them.”
Leopoldo’s product is currently in the research stages, as he works to ensure it is a universal product that is effective for as many strains of microalgae as possible. 

“I hope that this product will be available to anyone with a basic lab and a freezer – my target market is the SME community, which currently makes up the bulk of microalgae research companies, so it is important that the kit is easy to use and accessible to anyone who needs it.”

Ultimately, Leopoldo aims to grow CryoPhyc to be a global company, selling kits to help the 30-plus countries already working with microalgae. He also plans to investigate the potential of his product for use with other cellular systems, including stem cells and human tissue.
“This new method will be invaluable for scientists, freeing up time that can be better spent on research, as well as reducing labour costs.”



Ambulation Technologies 


Mechanical Engineering PhD candidate Unéné Gregory recognised that current below-the-knee prostheses cannot give wearers the freedom to walk on a variety of terrains in the way that they could with their own limbs. To solve this problem, she has designed two transtibial prostheses, one active and one passive, that will more effectively mimic the human leg. 

“The idea came about when my grandma sustained a significant injury to her lower leg,” she explains. 

“She fractured her tibia in three places after falling off a ladder, and due to other underlying health conditions, for a while doctors were uncertain whether they would be able to save her leg. Fortunately, she made a full recovery, but it got me thinking what options would have been available to her had they had to amputate. She could either have used a wheelchair, or a basic prosthesis which would have allowed her to walk on level ground, but would limit her from doing anything more.

“It made me realise that current prostheses are not suitable for walking on different terrains. If my grandma had wanted to do something as simple as her gardening, she would not have been able to. One of the biggest complaints from current prosthetic wearers is a lack of comfort from walking on different terrains – the strain is usually felt at the limb-socket interface as the prosthesis does not provide adequate range of movement. Instead of placing the strain on the residual limb, I wanted to create a device where the foot was able to do what it was designed to do, supporting the user’s bodyweight, conforming to different surfaces and allowing them to walk as normally as possible.”

Using her own research into biomechanics and biomechatronics, Unéné is now developing her two prostheses in order to improve the quality of life for those who use them. The passive prosthesis will feature an ankle-foot system that is functionally similar to that of biological limbs, and that will adapt to various surfaces and move in different ranges.

The active version will be powered, storing and releasing energy during the walking cycle, as our own muscles do. Users will control the prosthesis in a biologically similar manner to how they would have controlled their own leg. Unlike some biologically-controlled prostheses, which rely on reinverted nerves and surgery, Unéné’s product will be detachable and non-intrusive, giving people a similar lease of life before the loss of their limb with minimal invasion. 

Unéné has two distinct target markets for each product. For the passive limb, Unéné hopes to supply her product to developing countries, where infrastructure is more variable and where people would therefore benefit from the flexibility the limb offers. The active version is suitable for those who were active before their amputation, for example military personnel and sportspeople.

At the moment, Unéné is focusing exclusively on below-the-knee prostheses, but she also hopes to replicate the technology for above-the-knee amputations. In the future, she is keen to explore the use of exoskeletons, and helping people who are paralysed regain the use of their limbs.



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