Henrik Hagemann – CustoMem

What is your background and current job role?

My background is a clash of technical and enterprise, coming with an Imperial College London Biomedical Engineering background (1st class MEng 2015, awarded the only Imperial outstanding achievement medal out of 2200 graduates) where I focused on synthetic biology and biomaterials.

My research focused on synthetic biology tools, as I contributed to a genetic toolkit for biofuels production in thermophilic bacteria (Geobacillus, ACS synbio 2016). As part of Imperial College’s iGEM team in 2014, I co-developed a genetic toolkit for engineering control of bacterial cellulose production in engineered cells (Florea, Hagemann et al PNAS 2016). This took me deep into the area of crossing biological membranes (CBM), as the bacterial cellulose fibres are made inside cells and excreted across the cell membrane.

As part of CustoMem, we’re commercialising cellulose based bioadsorbents as a granular water purification product removing contaminants existing biological & chemical processes cannot degrade in industrial water treatment. The granular product retrofits in existing Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) vessels, enables recovery & recycling of contaminants and operates with low energy. The granular product is produced by cell factories using the tools & know-how developed during our research.

My job role as CEO puts me in close contact with collaborators & potential customers around alignment of our tech development with their needs. I also troubleshoot the technical challenges, fundraise, and manage expectations within our team & externally to shareholders.

What Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (IBBE) related project is currently being undertaken by your organisation?

CustoMem is secreting polymers (cellulose) from genetically engineered cell factories, and as such we are currently focusing on 3 IBBE projects:

  1. Using the genetic toolkit to further refine the granular product for our chosen contaminant removal
  2. Genetic engineering of the cell factories to produce a granular material focused on removal of new contaminants combined with chemical processing of the granular product
  3. Optimisation of the genetic pathways for production of granular product with an eye to customise the solution for our customers’ environment

The granular product is sterilised after secretion and production, so there are no living cells in the final product. The granular media is produced to medical grade standards, despite being used in industrial wastewater settings, as an assurance of the sterility of the granular product.

In the future we are looking into collaborating on a number of projects including biologically based recovery of the contaminants captured, remodifying the cell factories to use waste media feedstock, and developing alternative polymers that can be produced biologically with relevance to water treatment.

What do you think the challenges related to this project are in the next 1-5 years?

  • Scale up operation of the granular media in existing GAC hardware
  • Tech alignment with customer needs
  • Regulatory pathway for the products as they will be the first customisable bioadsorbents produced by engineered biology for water purification
  • Large scale recovery and recycling of the contaminants into high value products (elutriation)
  • Price competitiveness, thoroughly assessed at every stage. The key here is taking advantage of the patented biological production genetic toolkit. Currently price competitive with Granular Activated Carbon with a safety factor.
  • Market penetration of granular product
  • Building the infrastructure and supply net for shipping the granular product, regenerating the spent material, elutriation of contaminants and handling the relationship with supply chain network partners.
  • Relocating to larger scale processing labs in the UK
  • Managing large scale bulk material production site

How can other CBMNet members help you and your organisation with your research?

For CustoMem, CBMNet is a perfect match in terms of alignment with our tech. As such, CBMNet members can help by collaborating on one of the 3 research projects taking place in our organisation, engage in conversations about complimentary research projects to engage in or as exposure to relevant talent when it comes to recruiting new staff. We’re always hiring, and sometimes tailor roles specifically to a candidate.

There might also be opportunity to invite partners from CBMNet into an industrial research consortium for our current funding proposals for EU, and UK based funding schemes. With the great potential of IBBE and its major challenges when it comes to commercialisation, we’re always more than happy to help with advice about any of the steps required.

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