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Startup’s Material Removes Metals

Prize-winning NUMiX uses professor’s patented technology to solve water treatment challenges.

numix technology treats contaminated wastewater
The NUMiX Materials team. Photo: Slyworks Photography

Fall 2018
Innovation

A Northwestern student-led startup is commercializing a material that can treat contaminated wastewater from industrial processes more efficiently and effectively than market competitors.

NUMiX Materials will provide industrial users with a platform of water treatment sorbent powders to remove toxic materials from their wastewater streams.

Working with a patented ion exchange technology from the lab of Northwestern chemistry professor Mercouri Kanatzidis, the student startup is bringing to market a material that can capture an array of heavy metals from contaminated water. The material, a layered metal ion exchange sorbent, is a powder that locks in a range of toxic and precious heavy metals, present in minute concentrations, from industrial wastewater.

The powder compounds are formed by layers of inorganic material with a potassium interior that acts as a placeholder for the toxic and precious metals. Once the material is placed in the contaminated water, the powder releases the potassium to make room for the metal that’s attracted to the inter-layer surface.

The material allows for the removal and filtration of metals faster and with fewer steps than current technology, thereby reducing the amount of waste going to landfills from the treatment process. 

NUMiX Materials, which is supported by a Resnick Family Social Impact Program grant, developed its commercialization strategy last winter during NUvention: Energy, a course offered by Northwestern’s Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern. In April the team reached the semifinal round of the Rice Business Plan Competition and received the U.S. Department of Energy’s regional $50,000 Cleantech University Prize. The next month NUMiX won first place and $35,000 at Northwestern’s VentureCat student startup competition. The team finished second and won $30,000 at the DOE’s national, invite-only Cleantech University Prize competition in June. NUMiX won a VentureWell E-Team grant, for which they traveled to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in early July. 

NUMiX, which operates out of a shared lab space in the Technological Institute, continues to develop and test its product while designing its production processes.

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