UNESCO calls water pollution one of the main challenges facing societies, with 2 million tonnes of sewage entering the world’s water each day. Oxyle wants to help solve the crisis with a new wastewater treatment that removes micropollutants. The Zurich-based startup announced today $3 million in pre-seed funding that it will use to bring its tech to market. The round was led by Wingman Ventures with participation from SOSV, Better Ventures and another.vc.
The new capital brings Oxyle’s total raised so far to $7.4 million since it was founded in 2020. The startup’s customers include companies in the pesticide, chemical, textile pigments, electronics and pharmaceutical sectors that are regulated by strict discharge limits.
Oxyle’s wastewater treatment was developed five years ago by co-founder and CEO Dr. Fajer Mushtaq during her doctoral research at ETH Zurich. While earning her masters, Dr. Mushtaq worked with synthetic chemicals to develop new nanomaterials for biomedical applications. That resulted in wastewater containing toxic chemicals that needed special handling and disposal methods. Since there wasn’t an effective way to remove the chemicals, the wastewater had to be incinerated.
“For me, this way of handling water was not only costly, unsafe and very unsustainable, but it also completely got rid of one of our most precious resources,” Dr. Mushtaq said. “The more I researched this topic, the more I learnt about the immense scale at which incineration was practiced by small and large international companies.”
She decided to focus her doctoral research on developing novel catalysts to remove micropollutants. Dr. Mushtaq then worked with co-founder and CTO Dr. Silvan Staufert to integrate Oxyle’s water treatment solution into a scalable technology platform. Since then, Oxyle has completed paid pilots with industrial and municipal customers and increased its team to 17 people.
Oxyle’s wastewater treatment removes micropollutants including PFAS (chemicals found in products like cleaning solutions, water-resistant fabrics and nonstick cookware), pharmaceuticals, hormones and pesticides. It involves a nanoporous catalyst (a material with high surface area that takes energy) developed by Dr. Mushtaq. When the nanoporous catalyst is activated by water movements like bubbling or vibrations, it creates a chemical reaction. The chemical reaction generates oxidative radicals that break down organic pollutants into carbon, fluorides and other harmless minerals.
Oxyle uses modular reactors to deploy its tech. For companies that need to comply with discharge regulations, Oxyle also offers an analytics platform for real-time monitoring of micropollutants connected through its reactors.
The startup is continuing to perform on-site paid pilots with customers to get feedback on its technology. It has worked on projects with agrochemical companies whose production processes result in high levels of pesticides, herbicides and insecticides. That wastewater is usually sent for incineration, but Dr. Mushtaq said they were able to remove more than 95% of compounds by using Oxyle’s tech. The startup has also done environmental remediation projects with industrial customers to bring pollutants, including PFAS, in groundwater down to below detection limit.
Other wastewater solutions include activated carbon technology (to absorb pollutants) and membrane filtration (to filter out pollutants) technology, which are in wide use around the world to treat wastewater. But Dr. Mushtaq said that pollutants still remain on the used activated carbon or in concentrated water left over from the filtration process. These technologies also result in high operating costs, since the activated carbon or membranes need to be replaced.
Oxyle’s advantage is that it degrades micropollutants without resulting in secondary waste. Its nanoporous catalyst lasts for a long time, and is fully recyclable, Dr. Mushtaq added. But Oxyle sees filtration technologies as partners instead of competitors, since the highly concentrated wastewater they leave behind can be treated using Oxyle’s methods.
The startup is expanding its tech platform to cover more use cases, including flow-through systems (or artificial water channels), ultra-compact systems like those used in labs, large scale use cases like municipal wastewater and low-cost solutions for developing economies. Oxyle is also working with companies and R&D institutes to improve the speed and cost effectiveness of its pollutant analytics system.
In a statement, Wingman Ventures founding partner Alex Stöckl said, “Our freshwater resources are depleting at alarming rates and toxic micropollutants in water lead to severe damages in our health and environment. New regulations will demand companies to act. But additionally, we need to use sustainable technology to protect our precious water resources for us, and our future generations. We are proud to support Oxyle on their journey to address our global water problem in order to give everyone access to clean water.”