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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

November 2020

Small business commercializes technology with new grant

Microvi brings to market their technology for reducing hazardous chemicals in the environment, thanks to a new NIEHS small business grant.

Microvi Biotechnologies, Inc. received a new kind of grant from the NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP), to further enhance and commercialize their technology for converting hazardous compounds in water into less harmful substances.

The grant is part of the NIEHS Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Commercialization Readiness Pilot Program. Microvi plans to use the funding to improve its manufacturing process.

“By enhancing our manufacturing capabilities, this award will make Microvi’s technologies even more cost effective,” said Microvi’s CEO and chief technology officer, Fatemeh Shirazi, Ph.D. “This will help support the public health of communities in the U.S. and around the world.”

Microvi Biotechnologies, Inc., water treatment facility in CA Microvi’s water treatment facility in Pasadena, California treats and returns 200 million gallons of safe drinking water to California communities every year. (Photo courtesy of Microvi Biotechnologies, Inc.)

Giving microbes a boost

With a 2019 small business grant(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/srp/programs/Program_detail.cfm?Project_ID=R43ES024670) from SRP, Microvi refined their MicroNiche Engineering (MNE) technology(https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/centers/srp/science_digest/2019/12/technology/). MNE degrades organic compounds — such as trichloroethylene and 1,2,3-trichloropropane — into harmless byproducts, without producing residual waste.

The MNE platform uses biological organisms, called biocatalysts, to create microenvironments that speed up the chemical reactions. Quicker reactions make it easier for microbes to break down compounds during water treatment processes.

“Early NIEHS funding came at a pivotal time as Microvi was exploring the full development potential of the MNE platform,” said Ameen Razavi, Microvi’s chief innovation officer. “It allowed us to push the boundaries of the technology into various practical applications and apply our approach to a wider range of contaminants.”

MNE biocatalysts MNE biocatalysts can take a variety of forms, such as spheres, suitable for the specific application. (Photo courtesy of Microvi Biotechnologies, Inc.)

Improved sustainability

The MNE platform overcomes limitations of conventional water treatment, such as low efficiency, production of secondary waste, and high energy usage and maintenance costs. Such costs may otherwise be borne by the Superfund program, water treatment plants, and municipalities.

The technology is already in use by water treatment plants around the world to degrade contaminants, such as nitrate in groundwater(https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/centers/srp/news/2018news/microvi_technology_to_restore_drinking_water_in_california_district.cfm) in the Cucamoga Valley Water District in California.

Ambitious goals

scientist working in Microvi lab Scientists work in Microvi’s lab to perfect the process. (Photo courtesy of Microvi Biotechnologies, Inc.)

With the new grant(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/srp/programs/Program_detail.cfm?Project_ID=R44ES024670), Shirazi will lead development of Microvi’s next-generation production process for the MNE platform. Using a semi-automated technology, the new procedure will increase efficiency, reduce the environmental footprint, and further expand its commercial scale.

“This funding will specifically support Microvi … to optimize material usage, reduce labor requirements and production costs, and increase liquid and chemical recycling — thereby contributing to Microvi’s accelerated global commercialization,” said Razavi.

The funding will support expansion to more sites and provide resources for disadvantaged and rural communities to reduce their water contamination.

“As the speed, efficiency, and throughput of our manufacturing processes continue to increase, so too will our company’s reach and ability to rapidly respond to global market opportunities with our revolutionary solutions,” said Shirazi.

Stirring success

Microvi is using a second SBIR grant(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/srp/programs/Program_detail.cfm?Project_ID=R43ES031495&FY=2020) to develop technology to reduce levels of hexavalent chromium in drinking water. Compared to conventional treatment technologies, Microvi’s approach is cost-efficient, reliable, and environmentally sustainable.

The company received the 2020 Institute of Water Scottish Region Innovation Award for successfully removing ammonia from wastewater in Scotland using MNE. “Today, our solutions save lives, improve health, and provide affordable drinking water while preserving our environment,” said Razavi.

(Mali Velasco is a research and communication specialist for MDB Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.)

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