Startup receives $256,000 to develop biomass waste conversion technology

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 989 views 

Fayetteville-based technology startup SIEV Technologies, pronounced ‘siv,’ has received $256,000 in Phase I funding from the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The startup announced Thursday (Aug. 19) the non-dilutive funding will allow the company to advance and commercialize its novel technology for converting biomass waste.

“With our technology, cellulosic and non-cellulosic biomass waste, such as agricultural residue or food waste, can be converted into biofuels and value-added bio-based products,” said SIEV co-founder and CEO Davar Sasongko. “Our goal is to penetrate and grow the emerging biorefinery market to provide a renewable alternative to fossil fuels and petrochemicals from the traditional petroleum industry. SIEV’s technology is a green, sustainable and environmentally friendly way to directly combat global warming and climate change.”

The funding will be used to develop the technology to convert cellulosic corn fiber to ethanol. Corn fiber is a low-value byproduct in the production of starch-based corn ethanol. The startup has identified corn fiber as the shortest path to commercialization. It will design the technology as a “bolt-on” system that ethanol producers can add to their existing plants to produce cellulosic ethanol, according to a news release. This is expected to increase profit margins and allow them to obtain and sell renewable identification numbers and low carbon fuel standard credits from the cellulosic ethanol that they produce. According to the release, this will effectively double their profits.

“We hope to use the funding to validate and tune the technology in Phase I, and then further scale up the system in Phase II,” Sasongko said. “Though we may not realize it, we are surrounded by petroleum-based chemicals. From plastics, adhesives, paints and even clothing, these chemicals and their eventual products are part of our everyday lives.

“Our end goal at SIEV is not to replace these things, but rather offer a more sustainable, environmentally friendly, bio-based starting material that can be used to create the products mentioned above,” he added. “Our long-term goal is to utilize our technology to produce bio-based platform chemicals from lignocellulosic biomass waste, one of the most abundant and underutilized resources on earth. More than just a market opportunity, we have a personal conviction as human beings to steward the planet well. We believe SIEV’s technology represents that.”

SIEV Technologies was founded as a result of the work of Xianghong Qian and Ranil Wickramasinghe, professors in the College of Engineering at the University of Arkansas. They recognized the potential for using biomass as a more sustainable resource throughout their academic careers. They have been developing technologies to convert lignocellulosic biomass to fermentable sugars and platform chemicals over the past 20 years.

In their research, they developed a novel catalyst and the associated catalytic membrane technology to convert a variety of lignocellulosic biomass feedstocks to sugars and chemicals with high yield and efficiency. After recognizing the commercial potential of the technology, they worked with Sasongko to establish SIEV Technologies in October 2020.

“Through our participation in the national NSF I-Corps program and our affiliation with the university, we learned about the SBIR funding opportunity and discovered that the NSF SBIR would be a great fit for our technology,” Sasongko said. “We also knew early on that we wanted to go after non-dilutive funding, which would mean we would obtain crucial seed funding but retain full control and ownership of our company. As we are an early-stage startup, this was very important to us.”