How to finance novel sustainable technologies.

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In the recent Nature Sustainability paper on the magnetic remediation of the herbicide Glyphosate from water (, we probably have addressed an important piece of a large puzzle towards novel sustainable technologies to provide clean water. Beside Glyphosate removal, we have also established a materials toolbox allowing magnetic remediation of several other critical contaminants as hydrocarbons and crude oil [1] or toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) [2].

However, these results representing nice scientific progress but in order to generate real-world solutions, upscaling, large-field and long-term tests, and finally a continuous accessibility of the technology as market product is required. Such a market product must be a technical solution to the customer – including materials, equipment, full daily operation and service.

The recent editorial “From the lab to real-world use” ( already made an important point that scientific journals will appreciate such attempts by publishing results of those studies. Scientific publishing and in particular public attention in media help the researches even in acquisition of potential costumer, but the key problem in technical realization – based on our experiences – is not attention rather than financial endowment.

Personally, I believe that we as researchers have the responsibility to refund to the society and - at least - try to establish novel sustainable technologies. That could work by convincing partners from established industry or by starting own business with highly motivated and talented young scientists and engineers. Of course, the start-up concept need to change mind of scientist beyond the lab and they need to be trained or supported because business cases and other things become more relevant. The key issue is still lack of money. Probably every university, every state or region or most countries have established individual initiatives to support start-up activities but typically those public money will not cover the financial demand.

In the recent two decades, the most successful companies have been founded in IT business (facebook, amazon and so on) and we all know about the financial power and their market value today. But, starting an IT-related company requires – at the early stages – a smart idea and smart persons, the world-famous garage and a server somewhere. On the other hand, novel environmental technologies – which deal with large volumes and huge masses – require large machinery and early stage investments in the range of several million dollar/euro/pounds. We need to install hardware rather than software, or the business of technical solutions is heavy metal instead of bits and bites.

In order to solve the appearing challenges, I believe scientists and progressive venture capital have to find new efficient ways to be connected and to benefit from each other. That requires larger amount of invest and longer timescales for development and business success.

[1]         M. Sarcletti, D. Vivod, T. Luchs, T. Rejek, L. Portilla, L. Müller, H. Dietrich, A. Hirsch, D. Zahn and M. Halik „Superoleophilic Magnetic Iron Oxide Nanoparticles for Effective Hydrocarbon Removal from Water” Advanced Functional Materials 29 (2019) 1805742

[2]         T. Luchs, M. Sarcletti, L. Zeininger, L. Portilla, C. Fischer, S. Harder, M. Halik and A. Hirsch “Highly Efficient Encapsulation and Phase Separation of Apolar Molecules by Magnetic Shell‐by‐Shell‐Coated Nanocarriers in Water” Chem. Eur. J. 24 (2018) 13589-13595.

Marcus Halik

Professor, University Erlangen-Nürnebrg

Marcus Halik is Professor at the Institute of Polymer Materials at the Materials Science Department of the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany. He is a chemist by training with expertise in design and engineering of organic functinal materials, nanomaterials, and hybrid systems.