2016 New Zealand Innovation Awards Start-Up Innovator of the Year: Ligar
It’s about as ‘hard science’ as you can get, but Ligar chief executive Nigel Slaughter says what his Hamilton-based company does isn’t too hard to wrap one’s head around. “What we’re doing is enabling people to take out specific molecules from things,” he explains matter-of-factly. “Any place where you put a molecule in the wrong place can cause damage. And we can capture that.”
In order to capture those molecules, Ligar builds impressive-looking contraptions that can recover molecules and return them to a closed-loop system. To recover the molecules, Ligar uses molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) to capture specific molecules, filtering them out of liquid flows and extracting them for reuse. Ligar can manufacture MIPs in large volumes, which Slaughter says opens up opportunities for cost-effective removal of heavy metals, toxins, organic pollutants and pesticides from waste streams, waterways and other liquids. “It’s a science that’s been available for a long time in laboratories, but we’ve made it available essentially for everyone.”
Slaughter says pollution prevention and sustainability are key areas where Ligar’s technology could be most useful. For example, tanneries lose chromium during the tanning process, he says, and their recovery is usually too expensive to be worth the cost. But millions of dollars’ worth of chromium can now be recovered in an immediately reusable form with all contaminants removed through the use of Ligar MIPs.
Slaughter explains that development began in 2011, and the first system should be up and running in Australia before the end of the year. “Up until now we’ve been relatively quiet about exposing ourselves,” explains Slaughter.
But he says the Innovation Awards win could change that. “It’s validation of the team and the science and work that’s been done.”
And as for innovation? That’s what Ligar is almost entirely based on, explains Slaughter – and it’s what allows the company to survive. “We wouldn’t have a company without innovation,” he says. “The vast majority of what we do is innovative. We have to be innovative, because what we’re doing hasn’t been done before.”
Introducing a cost-effective way to not only clean up waste streams but have some waste product reused is a great achievement