Towards licensing of lab on chip technologies for water quality and environmental metrology markets

Lead Research Organisation: National Oceanography Centre
Department Name: Science and Technology

Abstract

This project will develop the commercial potential of lab on chip chemical sensor technologies developed by the National Oceanography Centre Southampton, and the University of Southampton. The lab on a chip sensors work by mixing sample water with a reagent that reacts to form a coloured product with intensity of colour proportional to the target chemical. For example Nitrite mixed with the Griess reagent forms a distinctive pink colour. This mixing is performed in a polymer "chip" in which channels approximately 0.15 mm in diameter are formed. Sample and reagent are moved through these channels with syringe pumps and controlled by miniature valves operated by electromagnetic solenoids, all under software control from bespoke electronics. The intensity of colour and hence the concentration of the chemical is also measured on the "chip" using LEDs and detectors glued into it. The whole system is extremely robust as it has been designed for operation in the deep sea. The systems are now routinely deployed to support NERC science (e.g. in the Macronutrient Cycles Programme). The robustness and excellent performance achieved mean there has been considerable commercial interest from companies looking to manufacture and sell the sensors. We and our commercial contacts estimate that the addressable market, which includes applications outside the marine sector, is approximately £64M/yr.
To maximise the commercial potential, and to realise this potential we are seeking to partner with a company via a license agreement. For this to be signed, we need to prove the technology in field trials and demonstrations with the potential licensee(s), improve our documentation, and make some adaptations to the marine sensors so they are more suitable for all the target market applications. These adaptations include allowing function in a wider range of temperatures, where waters are fresh but more turbid (muddy) or where biological fouling is more significant.
To recruit potential licensees we will initially work with companies with which we are already in contact but will also publicise the product through workshops at existing industry meetings or exhibitions, at conferences and through publishing in journals read by industry and key user groups.

Planned Impact

This project will deliver commercial uptake of lab on chip technology (developed by the National Oceanography Centre and the University of Southampton with NERC funding) by a company through a license agreement. To achieve this, our technical objectives are to adapt the marine sensors to applications in the market place, including freshwater and industrial water applications. Adaptations will enable the sensors to work over a wider range of temperature and in waters that are turbid (muddy) and that cause extensive fouling (biological growth on the sensor).
The project also has a number of commercial objectives. It will enable extensive knowledge exchange and market building activities which will improve industry engagement, will significantly increase awareness of the technology in user groups and for potential licensees. This activity will lead to a license agreement with a company enabling commercialisation of the technology, bringing global impact in multiple sectors.
Wider societal and environmental benefit will stem from the availability of a new low-cost high performance platform technology able to make complex yet vital measurements of water chemistry. This will enable more frequent, more widespread and better quality measurement and management of our environment. For example this will enable improved response times to events (such as storm driven flooding and pollution events). More better data will also enable improved forecasting and modelling of the environment (e.g. prediction of harmful algal blooms, and net CO2 sequestration in the environment).
 
Description that our sensors have considerable commercial potential, but that this could be further increased greatly by reducing the parts cost below $1000
Exploitation Route It is very likely that a commercial product will result benefitting users, manufacturers and NOC / NERC as IP holders.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Chemicals,Electronics,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

 
Description This Follow on Fund grant has enabled identification of commercialisation routes and potential partners, two of which explored a license with us, and others evaluated our technology for an additional market. This success has provided motivation to finish a patent application (see IP & licensing) which has now been granted at national phase. 3 further patents stemming from this work have also been filed. The body of IP generated forms the basis for further commercialisation activity begun in 2015. The technology is now available under license with a new company Clearwater Sensors Ltd. (see "spin out" section)
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Electronics,Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description (TechOceanS) - Technologies for Ocean Sensing
Amount € 8,975,662 (EUR)
Funding ID 101000858 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 09/2020 
End 09/2024
 
Description CEFAS lowestoft lab 
Organisation Centre For Environment, Fisheries And Aquaculture Science
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We collaborate with CEFAS Lowestoft on the development and application of new sensor technologies for their operational and research requirements. We provide sensors R&D, deliver sensors we have developed, as well as with operational support of demonstration deployments and operational data gathering campaigns.
Collaborator Contribution CEFAS Lowestoft provide access to operational infrastructure including instrumented buoys, autonomous vehicles and ships often with co-sampling that can be used to benchmark sensor performance which is essential for demonstrating sensor performance and value in an application. They also supply operational and scientific knowledge of applications enabling the technology to have enhanced impact into resource management and policy.
Impact Deployment of nutrient sensors on the RV Endevour and on Smart Bouys in the Thames and coastal sites
Start Year 2009
 
Title MICROFLUIDIC ABSORPTION CELL 
Description An absorption cell for microfluidic chemical analysis made from tinted or coloured polymers, for example polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA), in which microfluidic channels are cut. Light is coupled into the absorption cell via two windows (typically 200 um thick) that are retained at either end of the channel. Absorption is measured using a light source, such as a light emitting diode (LED) and a photodiode butted against the windows. Spurious scattered and/or reflected light is absorbed by the coloured polymer over the length of the measurement cell, while very little light loss occurs at the coupling windows. 
IP Reference WO2011095821 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2011
Licensed Yes
Impact License being drafted
 
Title MOLYBDENUM BLUE ASSAY FOR MEASUREMENT OF CHEMICAL SPECIES 
Description A process for measuring a concentration of a chemical species in an aqueous sample employing polyvinylpyrrolidone. The process comprises : providing an aqueous sample containing the chemical species; mixing the aqueous sample with a first reagent that comprises a solution of a molybdenum VI salt to provide a first solution; mixing the first solution with a second reagent that comprises a reducing agent to form a second solution; and measuring a property of the second solution to determine the concentration of the chemical species. Polyvinylpyrrolidone is added to the aqueous sample, the first reagent, the first solution or the second solution. The intensity of light absorbed or transmitted by the second solution may be used to determine the concentration of the chemical species. 
IP Reference WO2018087507 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2018
Licensed No
Impact Added to the body of IP offered in a currently running IP auction / partnering opportunity. The outcome of this is pending but will either result in a license to one of the 5 bidders, a joint venture (with one or more of the 5 bidders) or a spinout company (possibly in collaboration with one or more of the 5 bidders
 
Title Pump and valve 
Description New components of microfluidic analysers with improved performance i.e. valves and pumps 
IP Reference GB1619023.3 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2017
Licensed No
Impact Added to the body of IP offered in a currently running IP auction / partnering opportunity. The outcome of this is pending but will either result in a license to one of the 5 bidders, a joint venture (with one or more of the 5 bidders) or a spinout company (possibly in collaboration with one or more of the 5 bidders
 
Title UV oxidation device 
Description A device for oxidation of samples prior to analysis by a chemical analyser 
IP Reference GB1619020.9 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2017
Licensed No
Impact Added to the body of IP offered in a currently running IP auction / partnering opportunity. The outcome of this is pending but will either result in a license to one of the 5 bidders, a joint venture (with one or more of the 5 bidders) or a spinout company (possibly in collaboration with one or more of the 5 bidders)