Pictured: Dr. Christophe Frankiewicz showcasing Sep-All’s technology during the 20th Annual TechConnect World Innovation Conference and Expo May 13-16 in Anaheim, CA.
AMES, Iowa (Dec. 2018) – Ames-based startup, Sep-All LLC, is on a mission to help industries producing, using, and recycling materials take the best out of their waste.
For Sep-All, this includes critical materials, such as specialty metals, coinage metals, and rare-earth materials. Silver, gold, bismuth, neodymium-dysprosium and indium are all examples of these materials that are mixed into wastes and need to be purified or extracted. They tend to have a high supply risk, a poor interchangeability, or are vulnerable to other factors like the ecological use impact. Most companies in the United States need to import these critical materials due to their scarcity and low recovery rate from either minerals or wastes.
Sep-All solves all the challenges of phase separation in metals needed to obtain purer compounds for the extraction and metal recycling industries. By creating innovative recovery technologies, Sep-All helps companies avoid dependency on other countries by supplying them with critical materials after recovery from typically unused sources, such as mineral or electronics wastes. Co-Founder and Managing Partner Dr. Christophe Frankiewicz says the technology increases the recovery rate of critical materials, is versatile and has limited environmental impact.
“We believe that valuable materials should not end up in landfills, which are now found there in higher concentrations than minerals,” Frankiewicz says. “By using wastes as a supply stream to manufacture our products, we intend to modify the dynamic of the markets of materials that are typically produced by mining minerals.”
Sep-All began as a waste processing company, and is now planning to extend its product line to the fabrication of critical materials.
Sep-All is poised to pursue the development and scale-up of its innovative materials waste recovery and purification technology thanks to a $150,000 Phase I SBIR research grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Sep-All received official notification of the highly competitive award from the DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy funding program in August. If Sep-All is successful in meeting the benchmarks for the nine-month research project, the company will qualify for up to an additional $1 million over two years to complete its research and development effort.
Sep-All’s DOE Phase I SBIR award also made the company eligible to apply for and, ultimately, be awarded a $50,000 grant match through the Iowa Innovation Corporation’s (IICORP) SBIR/STTR Outreach Program. In 2017, Sep-All was granted an Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) $25,000 Proof of Commercial Relevance (POCR) loan for product refinement.
Frankiewicz says the DOE funding will allow Sep-All to finalize the characterization of some of its products so that they are ready for market and, also, develop an entirely new line of nanomaterials products from critical materials.
“We learned through the customer discovery phase of the Iowa State University Startup Factory program that these nanomaterials have a very high value compared to bulk raw materials, so we pivoted to a nanomaterials manufacturing company more than a waste company,” Frankiewicz explains. “We still process waste as a supply stream, but we can take pure materials if it’s necessary to make nanomaterials—we are essentially just looking at what we were doing in a different way.”
Frankiewicz says Sep-All’s platform aims to potentially decrease U.S. interdependency on other countries for the supply stream of critical materials. For example, the U.S. currently relies on China to supply over 90% of its neodymium and indium.
“We are focused on creating this new line of critical materials which are scarce in nature or available only in foreign countries like China.” Frankiewicz says. “Our main focus is on recovering neodymium from hard-drive magnet waste, due to its rising demand and looming supply challenge, as DOE summarized in its 2011 Critical Materials Strategy, ‘may affect clean energy technology deployment in the years ahead’.”
The SBIR project allows Sep-All to continue its R&D to establish the commercial relevance and viability of its manufacturing operations.
“Because the size and shape of our materials is quite new and not market available, we are looking at what applications might be possible,” Frankiewicz says. “The grant will help us discover which applications work for these products.”
Just two years after it was established in 2016 from technology that spun out of Iowa State University, Sep-All is gaining momentum. In addition to receiving funding from the DOE, IICORP and IEDA, Sep-All was recently selected as one of Hello Tomorrow’s Top 500 DeepTech startups from over 4,500 applications worldwide.
Frankiewicz gives much credit to the business support received as an inaugural cohort of the ISU Startup Factory and from the entities that provided the company its funding.
“We are so grateful for support received through the U.S. Department of Energy, the Iowa Innovation Corporation, the Iowa Economic Development Authority and the ISU Startup Factory,” Frankiewicz says. “Their help has been a critical link in our success and, without these programs, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
About Sep-All LLC
Sep-All is a materials manufacturing startup company focused on the production of materials using state-of-the-art R&D technologies. Sep-All provides a novel supply stream of critical materials and micro- / nano-materials by using innovative recovery technologies on wastes. For more information regarding Sep-All, call 515-294-5707 or visit https://www.sep-all.com.
About ISU Startup Factory
The Iowa State University (ISU) Startup Factory is a 52-week intensive program housed at the ISU Research Park (ISURP). Entrepreneurs in the Startup Factory receive formal training, resources, and access to a network of business mentors, advisors, counselors, and investors in two 26-week blocks: the first a formal curriculum centered on business validation, and the second, customized to their individual business needs. For more information on the ISU Startup Factory program, call 515-294-7444 or visit isustartupfactory.org