In a small office on the outskirts of Zurich, a small team of scientists and researchers have been hard at work trying to find a way to drastically cut energy consumption in some of the world's most energy-intensive industries.
Their company is Unisieve, and founder, Samuel Hess, has spent years researching how to use new materials -- "magic crystals" made from both metals and organic compounds -- to create new kinds of filters.
"At Unisieve we developed a method that can separate without thermal separations, without heat and without cold," Hess said.
For big chemical companies, filtration is key to creating the materials that make up the world around us. Whether they're more sustainable and bio-based or traditional chemicals based on fossil fuels -- the processes are typically very, very energy intensive.
Unisieve's tech replaces that. And the company has raised $5.5 million to take their work out of the laboratory and into the real world.
Hess said that the first order of business is to make a shipping container-sized add-on that companies can install to handle separations of gas into olefins and paraffins -- the basic building blocks for most of the plastics and chemicals in the world.
The company has its own facilities in Zurich to build its initial membranes and will begin producing the drop-in processing equipment there first.
For the past two years, Hess and his team have built up the supply chain to bring these initial pilot units to the company's chemical and oil and gas partners.
Unisieve estimates that it can cut energy demand for olefin and paraffin production by around 90% -- cutting up to 30,000 tons of carbon emissions with a single retrofit to include its technology on an industrial site. And given that each chemical plant has dozens of these refining towers, that means gigaton of greenhouse gas reductions. "Ten percent to 15 percent of the world's energy is used for separation of chemicals and fuels," Hess said.
For climate scientists, these technologies are necessary to manage the transition from oil and gas to other materials that can replace plastics in industry.
Hess didn't start out to make a chemicals company. At first, the young Swiss entrepreneur was hoping to make water filters -- reducing energy intensity and improving efficiencies there.
But as research into these magic crystals -- the metal-organic compounds progressed -- he realized that they could be applied to smaller and smaller molecules.
And with that realization companies came calling.
"We're conducting pilots with many of the leading chemical and energy companies," Hess confirmed.
The magic of Unisieve's crystals comes in the way that they're able to integrate into existing membrane technologies. These crystals are smaller than a speck of dust and can be used to filter the tiniest of particles -- even gases.
"These materials have been developed over the last decade or so," said Hess. "The unique thing about [our] membrane is that we found a way efficiently integrate this .
In recent years, investors have been more than willing to separate cash from their wallets for these separations businesses.
Via Separations raised nearly $40 million for a fluid separation technology back in 2021 and Syzygy Plasmonics raked in nearly $80 million for its tech to develop all-electric reactor systems that take combustion out of chemical manufacturing and reduce the carbon intensity of hydrogen, methanol, and fuel.
With Unisieve's tech companies can expect to see a payback on their investment in under a year, because of the energy savings associated with their process.
With greater efficiencies for energy use, payback in less than a year, and the potential to remove nearly 30,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere with every installation, Unisieve's crystal technology could be magic indeed.