Bipolynet team conducting trials at the Nexa Mining Field

Bipolynet: Cleaning Up Conventional Industries

As we’re navigating a global pandemic and a just, green recovery, we want to amplify the stories of those that are working harder than ever for a low-carbon future. We’re profiling each of our 16 ventures in Earth Tech – CSI Climate Ventures’ accelerator for startups and nonprofits working on climate and freshwater solutions.

Arian Shahnazari met Biopolynet founder Mostafa Aghaei in 2016 at the University of New Brunswick. Shahnazari was getting his Master’s of Science in Chemical Engineering, while Aghaei was collaborating on a project with Shahnazari’s academic supervisor.

Shahnazari remembers being fascinated by the company’s technology. Biopolynet uses natural polymers — in a patented combination referred to as a BioNanoCoil — to solve complex water treatment problems in conventional industries such as oil and gas, mining, and agriculture. When a small amount of BioNanoCoil is applied to the industrial water-based effluents, it enhances the properties of the stream and results in cleaner water with less floating toxic waste at the end of the process.

Four years later, as Biopolynet’s Director of Operations, Shahnazari is even more passionate about the tech’s potential: “This solution can help companies increase their water recirculation efficiency and decrease the volume of undesired toxic sludges or “tailings” by-produced in their operations,” explained Shahnazari. “This would be a huge step forward toward their circular economy missions.”

Cleaning up conventional industries with BioNanoCoil

Converting AD tailings (digestate) into NPK-rich concentrate
Converting AD tailings (digestate) into NPK-rich concentrate

Conventional industries like mining are increasingly required to come up with solid plans for both cleaning up their tailing ponds and cutting the rate of tailings production in the first place. For instance, mining companies in Brazil are mandated to reduce 75% of the production of their tailings by 2025. Many companies use traditional synthetic chemistry to clean up their tailings, while BioNanoCoil (BNC) is non-toxic, biodegradable, and less carbon intensive to produce.

Biopolynet can help companies to reduce their costs and be more sustainable.

BNC has gotten some much-deserved attention and Biopolynet is gaining traction, but as Shahnazari attests, getting big, conventional industrial companies to adopt a scientific innovation, and a tangible or hard science technology at that, is tricky.

“Hard science startups such as ours usually suffer from lengthy scale-up and commercialization processes,” explained Shahnazari. “Emerging technologies from the lab need to overcome several hurdles such as finding the right industrial partner, extensive commercial-scale development costs, and IP protection to make it to the market successfully.”

Biopolynet’s customizable BNC technology is currently piloting and not fully commercialized. Yet having already demonstrated that BNC will deliver equal or better performance benefits than existing solutions, at an equal or lower total cost, and with less carbon intensive and more sustainable results, the startup is on the right track. So far, they’ve helped their clients with the cleanup of over 4,500 tonnes of tailings and toxic by-products.

Gaining ground with big players

Biopolynet’s traction and potential gained them a spot in Earth Tech and, as Shahnazari believes, their participation helped them navigate the trials of COVID. Regular cohort peer circles, workshops, and advising encouraged Earth Tech 2020 participants to stay focused and positive during these uncertain times. Shahnazari says being a part of Earth Tech has been hugely beneficial to Biopolynet’s work, and that he considers the Earth Tech cohort members, Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, and the Climate Venture staff very much an extended team.

“I find peer-to-peer learning in like-minded communities such as the Earth Tech program the best way to get practical instructions and advice to avoid common mistakes and grow rapidly,” he said. “Access to an extended network of expertise, experience, and potential future customers through the cohort is also another feature of the program worth mentioning.”

And our current regulatory landscape and economic trajectory is in Biopolynet’s favour: conventional industry leaders must welcome and support innovation in their supply chains, including from cleantech startups, if we are to have any chance of addressing climate change and protecting the world’s precious water resources.

Arian Shahnazari at the 2019 CSI Agents of Change Pitch Night
Arian Shahnazari accepting the first place prize at the 2019 CSI Agents of Change Pitch Night

What comes next for Biopolynet?

“We’re searching for an industrial partner who can help us with providing a process engineering facility and running industrial-scale pilots on a continuous basis.”

Learn more about Biopolynet here.

Learn more about Earth Tech and meet the other ventures here. Earth Tech is made possible because of our partners: RBC FoundationBullfrog PowerVancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB), and WWF-Canada.