Cleaning wastewater is essential but challenging. Wastewater operations are inefficient and unsustainable. They require excessive energy consumption, their operating costs are high and they contribute to global warming through generating harmful greenhouse gas emissions. According to reports, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have increased by almost 50% since 1990 (source: wateronline.com).
That’s where Henrik Hagemann, co-founder and CEO at CustoMem wants to make a difference. Together with Ben Reeve and Gabriella Santosa, Henrik founded CustoMem in 2011 with the purpose of designing sustainable solutions to clean wastewaters.
Currently, the world is confronted with the following facts: water scarcity is increasing and more than half the world’s population live in urban areas. As you can see, the importance of treating and understanding the value of wastewater has never been greater.
CustoMem designs and manufactures biologically derived materials for industrial water treatment. Through a low-energy, low-cost biological process, CustoMem produces a novel biomaterial composite that can selectively capture micropollutants including pesticides, pharmaceuticals and high-performance chemicals.
To honour his accomplishments, Henrik was included in 2019 Forbes 30 under 30 Europe and in 2018 he received Innovators under 35 Europe (2018) award by MIT Technology Review.
Looking to know more about Henrik, I invited him to share his story.
1. Your company is about protecting global environmental & human health by engineering bio-based materials to capture target chemicals. When did environmental protection become one of your interests?
I’ve grown up on the Danish countryside with my childhood home neighbouring forest and fields on all sides. My favourite pastime was venturing into the forest and exploring our nearby wetlands and river.
This evolved into an environmental curiosity, which resulted in long-distance cycling trips like the Silk Route and now building a venture that exponentially reduces the discharge of high impact industrial chemicals.
2. What challenges did you encounter while developing the CustoMem adsorbent material?
Huge scientific challenges!
We’re targeting the most resistant industrial chemicals. In the first case, this involves us “sticking” (adsorbing) the most non-stick chemical in the world, fluorinated substances called PFAS. PFAS is what makes Teflon pans non-stick.
Lots of additional challenges appear, including how PFAS contain one of the most stable bonds in the world, come in 4700+ slight variants, require advanced H&S facilities as it is toxic at extremely low quantities and detecting it in one water sample easily costs $350.
Seeing a world-class team come together to tackle such a scientifically hard problem alongside generic startup challenges is truly inspirational. I guess it’s also no wonder more than half of the team have a PhD.
3. What is your vision of the future?
I envision a future where we engineer biomaterials to tackle global challenges with a scalable profitable approach.
As the first step to this vision, my vision is one of CustoMem as the market leading solution for treatment of highly toxic industrial chemicals with guaranteed destruction or closed loop reuse of the chemicals. I want us to effectively demonstrate the business case for protecting environmental and public health.
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