with 🎙️ Henrik Hagemann is the CEO and Co-Founder of Puraffinity.
💧 Puraffinity is a GreenTech Company that designs smart materials for environmental applications. Their cutting-edge material design and creative engineering approach may provide a new horizon to solve the daunting PFAS / Forever chemicals challenge we face.
What we covered:
🍎 What Polyfluoroalkyl Substances – or PFAS – actually are
🍎 How these PFAS enter the Water Cycle somewhen along the way but never exit it. In other words, they bioaccumulate in all of us!
🧮 How finding PFAS in >97% of people has consequences on health, wellbeing, and overall societal costs
🧮 How PFAS liabilities may also be a risk for the corporate world and Fortune 100 companies
🍏 How Puraffinity may light a bulb of hope in PFAS treatments, thanks to a sort of “Chemical Pacman”
🍏 How “Forever Chemicals” are only eternal because we don’t take them seriously (yet)!
🌱 How PFAS could be reused and regenerated from the recycled solvent medium
🌱 How you can control PFAS flows, removals, and by-products (and how you need to go beyond LC-MS for that)
😲 How the bottleneck to PFAS treatments might be at an unexpected place: a shortage of operators
🍏 Where PFAS treatments shall ideally be located, and what shape they should take
🌱 How we shall move on from the human-centric approach to water treatment to also consider the price tag attached to biodiversity losses
🧮 How to best nudge the adoption of PFAS treatments, from regulations to market incentives through investor activism
🧮 How spinning off from academia to entrepreneurship involves a mindset shift and a readiness for war
🔥 … and of course, we concluded with the 𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 🔥
Teaser: PFAS Treatment
🔗 Check Puraffinity’s Website
🔗 Send your warmest regards to Henrik on LinkedIn
is on Linkedin ➡️
Infographic: PFAS TreatmentLinkedin-Infographic-Henrik-Hagemann
Quotes: PFAS TreatmentSquare-Quotes-Henrik-Hagemann
These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂
Get Season 2's Summary!
Antoine Walter: Hi, Henrik. Welcome to the show.
Henrik Hagemann: Thank you. Yeah, I’m excited to be here.
Antoine Walter: I’m really excited to have you and we’ll see quite soon why, but I have to open with our good old traditions and that involves that you have to send me a postcard from wherever you are and if I get it right, you’re in love. So, what can you tell me about London that I would ignore by now?
Henrik Hagemann: Well, I guess the one, one thing that often overlook this, we actually have quite a diverse scene of like different cultures. So where I stay is like really close to the Notting hill carnival. We just had like a few weeks ago and that one is like, yeah, it’s pretty cool. It’s not a lot been allowed lately, but whenever it is possible, it’s great Ron to come.
Antoine Walter: let me jump directly into it and let’s tell everyone why I’m so excited to discuss with you because actually you were listed by Forbes as one of the 30, under 30, and by the MIT tech review as one of the 35, under 35. So I don’t know if you’re a soon hitting the 40 bar, which will make you one of the 40 and the 30, but I was wondering how do you get these recognition and what was your path to impress such impressive?
Henrik Hagemann: Yeah. Well, I guess it’s, it’s often seen as like maybe a symptom of the journey rather than like the goal itself. So yeah, I started out with this crazy synthetic biology science competition with a team of other like engineers and scientists, which was told like at the time nobody knew about. Genetically engineered machine.
What is that? But these days, like everyone is like, oh, that’s how our vaccine to me. And it’s like, yeah, that’s right. But that was, yeah, that was back in 2015. Then we joined in through this sort of Imperial college ecosystem. Creating a venture and yeah, I think there were some really hard decisions that had to be made along that journey.
Some of them were between, is this going to be a tech push or a problem solve? So like a mission-driven company and I think, yeah, we’ve definitely. Whittle it down. We started out with 10 people at that item journey. And then now we’re like two left on the team, the others, they went to do the PhD, like we’re all supposed to do myself included and I’m sure some of them will become like similarly, like recognized by whatever external body.
Uh, but I guess it’s a symptom of them having choices. Some of the more mission-driven approach and then really sticking with this thing. Like, it is not just a quick fix to develop some of these things already in 2019, it had been four years now. It’s been a few more years since then. And maybe that that’s, it it’s like sticking with stuff when it’s really like, you’re just piling around in difficulty.
Antoine Walter: We come back to the mission part and to what you’re actually doing. But you know, when I was reviewing your path, Many things which are, I mean, you’re clearly not one of the conventional people we meet in the water industry, but I saw two that really were standing out of the crowd. First, you were cycling 9,350 kilometers from China to Denmark to give you a scale.
I was cycling 10 kilometers this morning to take the train and I was exhausted so impressive there. And you also learned Wushu, which I learned to be a variation of Kung Fu with some Shaolin monks. So how do you fit that in your journey and why?
Henrik Hagemann: Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s a, it’s an interesting one. I guess it’s like, it’s a bit unusual, but basically I spend a really long time planning this trip.
I ended up spending maybe a year and a half planning this trip and the, the original thesis for it. I was really interested in this sort of send Buddhism, which lies underneath the Shaolin Kung Fu staff. And as a kid, I want it to be a monk. And then the other interest was I was fed up. I was really fed up with studying day and night during my high school.
So I went to this boarding school to leave the more Mon-El monolingual countryside in Denmark. And I just walk up this day, laying in bed like. DOF. Wouldn’t it be nice if all I had to do today was cycle. All I had to do yesterday was cycle and all I’ll do some Moro or cycling. And so that, that kind of, that was the early sprout for the idea.
And then one and a half years later, I had convinced my parents to let me go. I had worked so that I could earn some money to pay for the trip. And basically I found myself, yes, you said living with, but the Charlotte. In Hunan province, China, just like central China. It’s between Sierra and Shanghai. It’s the middle of nowhere.
Really? It’s an industrial province. And the whole village was like concrete up in the mountains is not particularly pleasant, but I really enjoyed it. I still keep my hair. But short from those days, we really were bused completely short here. And yeah. Then we were asked to train from five 30 in the morning until 7:00 PM in the evening.
Six days a week. So you lose transept of weekend. They like, where am I? I didn’t do it for that long, only four months. And I would definitely do it for longer if I could get away with it again. And then yeah, the, the trip kind of, that was good preparation. And then I decided I took, I would take the sustainable way back.
And so that’s how I came to the cycling trip. So I, I flew out and then after the training with the monks, I basically, uh, cycled through that silk route. So that, that took me through some really. Well, I guess discern it parts like the Gobi desert Kazakhstan, parts of Russia that are now like inaccessible because of the tension with Ukraine.
But yeah, throughout, I think I met so much kindness from people and I was like, oh, I cannot pay these people back. That kind of current bro and pay them back for like all the kindness. They offered me whether it was like a mechanic offering me to sleep in his house with the small kids also, or like someone doing the food and in China and the middle of nowhere.
But I thought, okay, maybe I can help these people by trying to solve some of the issues. So I cycled through the ROC and you can see it’s like dry it out there, like bolts in the middle of the desert, where there used to be an ocean. And so. Yeah. Later when the chance to do something with water came up, it was like a chance to develop a technology where these people wouldn’t know that I would try to help them because the technology would be at the industrial plant and their sites would benefit without them having to pay for it directly.
That’s a longer story, but basically what I learned from that there’s maybe like, keep your feet in the pedals and your eyes on the horizon. That’s kind of, it translates well to entrepreneurship.
Antoine Walter: It sounds like a perfect metaphor as well. So you mentioned that you had this competition at MIT where, where you first touched that idea of the technological aspect of what you’re doing today.
And you also mentioned that, that element of the, of the mission, which I now understand as that link with watcher, but what came first? Is it the technology first, the water mission.
Henrik Hagemann: So they picked us out of 120 students at Imperial into a very curated group of 10 people to represent Imperial at this science competition in 2014.
And they had deliberate practice around what makeup they wanted us. So we were 50, 50 male, female. We were engineers and scientists and were basically thrown into a room with our white wall, like behind me, asked to brainstorm, come up with something. Guys. You’ve got four months to present that in Boston, at MIT.
Uh, it better be good. So we went through for two weeks, just like brainstorming, pounding, like through different ideas. And as we, we evolved different like problem sets. There was this convergence around one being these targeted materials that you can develop in biotech. So at the time we saw. Wow. You can use these like green tea bacteria called a Cecil banter to make cellulose.
Okay. That’s cool. Like nature knows so much. And then the other side was, oh, there’s this sort of impact problem of clean water where I was like, huh, like keen water for all or something. Lots of people have done. When you dig into it, there was this sort of like 80 20 rule that came apparent to us. It’s basically like this small group of contaminants, less than 20% of the stuff in water, which basically mess up more than 80% of the fresh water we have available.
And so the idea came like when those two rings overlap and that vendor. We’re like, okay, what if we combined this thing with this thing, and we basically try just as a proof of concept and see if we can make nature, trick the materials and focus on the highest impact within that group with our limited understanding of water treatment in 2014.
Antoine Walter: Does that mean that because today you focus quite a lot on the PFAS treatment, because you just said you have a limited knowledge of what a treatment at that point in time. And PFAS is usually not the first thing that you learn about water. So was that within the concept from day one or did you build it up with.
Henrik Hagemann: I think you’re spot on. It was definitely not a simple one-off thing. In the beginning, we were considering the stuff with the very long tail. So like radioactive things, some with very high acute toxicity. So like a bacteria in the water cryptosporidium, whatever it might be and more, and it, it only came through like us talking to customers to really learn about, oh, do you need a new solution, obviously?
And I they’re there. Joyce, but, and then there would be like, ah, actually we can use electrocoagulation we can use ion exchange. And then Bob’s your uncle job’s done. No. So like running through this wall and being like, oh, okay, well we could spend a lot of effort developing that’s technology, but there isn’t really a market near for.
Or the market need a small probably be like, huh, okay. Back to the, back to the other micro contaminants, micro pollutants, what were the contestants? And I think, yeah, that was something we build up over time. And we’re definitely grateful for like these ecosystems where you you’re asked to go out and talk to a hundred customers in 10 weeks.
And if you don’t, you don’t get to present. So it was like, it’s really a pressure cooker. Yeah. That then led us down this route of having a criteria for what to pick. So it was. What’s the toxicity. Okay. Is it persistent? Does it stick around and then does it build up over time? Does it bioaccumulate those three were also like what?
It’s like the usual European regulations for water framework. But one that I think is often overlooked is volatility. Something that’s special about some species speciesist they go into the clouds and migrate and bras is the most remote parts of the world. And that’s something which is special about, for example, a Teflon chemical, like PFAS.
Yeah. Once we came on to that, it was like a blood like, oh, I like a shark smelling blood. It’s like, oh, this is like, there’s something juicy here.
Antoine Walter: You had PFAS ticking all the boxes because you could solve it. It was one. Type of compounds that you had an idea of how to treat and that’s something we’ve covered on that microphone in the past.
It’s clearly a dead angle of the water industry today, because as you mentioned, some more conventional ones made already have a treatment, but not PFAS are not really. I mean, we’re still in this phase, which looks a bit like, you know, beyond DVD. Blu-ray and 20 different technologies around. We knew that all of them could somehow match the demands, but none of them was really developed.
So we are still in this, in this Prairie phase, which gives you a strong opportunity. Again.
Henrik Hagemann: Yeah. Yeah, that’s true. And I think the other, like outside observation, I mean, obviously you can see my background. Like I was playing around with the monks and like, I wasn’t doing water treatment in that time. Like one of the outside observations was just that we spend these orders of magnitude more energy.
When we filter with science, exclusion principle and 80%. Pollutants we remove, they’re not that harmful. So it’s like, it didn’t seem like a prudent use of energy. And that was kind of like part of the observation also in those early days in that, that sort of white board, Imperial hygiene D.
Antoine Walter: It’s interesting because your approach, now, what I understand from what you say with this 80 20 Pareto rule is really unconventional in water treatment.
I mean, you’ll get sold. Okay. Remove those. Okay. You remove those, you don’t think of. Okay. Maybe that was another, that harmful. We should dedicate on those, which are really harmful. That sounds, I mean, you already gave two very interesting insights here. The first is go out and talk to customers the earlier the better.
And the second is really focused on, on what mattress, but steel PFAS is really something emerging. And do you think that’s the overall, uh, a as of the level at which it matters is already there, or is there still a disconnect between the level of, of harm? It can CO’s and the understanding that people have with.
Henrik Hagemann: Yeah. I mean, we’re very far from having had a microplastics general awakening for the whole population. We haven’t had that for PFAS, that kind of happened for microplastics. And it was like watching an earthquake, like what the hell is going on? Like the whole, the whole candidate is talking to us about whether we can remove microplastics and we were just.
Uh, yeah, we mean, I mean, it’s persistent, but it’s not that toxic. Like this is, this is like a self core thing compared to these other bad boys. And so I think industry wise, there’s definitely a massive awakening. Like when you see fortune 100 companies losing billions of dollars of market cap, because of PFAS liabilities, like we saw in 2019, it’s like, holy cow, like it’s really moving to the top of the corporate.
And then for us, it’s just doing the maths. If you take a back of the envelope, like calculation, you take the lawsuit in 2016 settlement for six, $670 million for one site for one fluoropolymer manufacturer. Then I did that. I said, okay, there are several fluoropolymer manufacturers with more than 20 sites and there are least the same lawsuit liability.
And so you can clearly see how this maps onto the balance sheet. And I think often in water treatment, we will talk about clean waterfall and isn’t that just driven in and off itself, but it’s really hard to adopt when you cannot map it onto. The corporate agenda. And so I, yes, I saw, I guess, a chance for that with PFAS.
And I think right now we are kind of being a bit cautious or like just not trying to spur things on too much, because I think with microplastics, some of the general awareness was like, good, but then it’s it deflates a bit after that? It’s like, okay, what’s the next cool thing. What’s the next hot topic?
Antoine Walter: absolutely true. I mean, when I started within water treatment, the hot topic, because some regulations were coming around were micro pollutants and it was microplastics and we had one for Diane. Then we had, I mean, there were some fame waves and yeah, there’s a racial behind that’s for sure. But not all of them.
If you wait them have the same consequences. So it’s very interesting to hear that from you regarding, I mean, if we’ve exposed the problem of PFAS, what is your solution there? How do you intend to solve that PFAS?
Henrik Hagemann: Yeah. So I think first off it’s recognizing the size of the challenge. So people are trying to stick the most non-state contaminant.
It’s not just all these things. It’s not just 50 times more toxic than arsenic is really a non-stick. And that is like, it’s such an interesting technical challenge in itself. And so I really view it as an experimental search for. So it’s you got to go through this iterative design build test learn cycle to basically find the most suited molecular receptor or molecular binding group for group of PFAS in a given matrix.
But people often forget this piece, that there was a constraint. There’s a constraint in the water sector of cost of manufacturing, the stability of the substrate. And the functional groups and the safety of those molecular receptors, you cannot just do crazy chemistry. Like we can for biomarker detection where nobody gives, gives a yeah.
A trap about whether there is, there is a top on fluoride bond and the binding, my hand is in for detecting cancer. People don’t care. But for us in water treatment, dance really important. And so the first time we did this, we basically went through an MRI and a library to screen with 10 to the 13 different variants.
That’s a lot of zeroes. And then we would discover a group of peptides that can efficiently capture PFAS in our chosen water matrix. And then we would test those groups of peptide mimics in a high throughput screen and our experimental labs. So you have labs working alongside the bits with the modeling and then basically.
That insight led to us having a dual mechanism for binding. So you have ion exchange and its option, which gives you a more flexible approach. And it introduces this really exciting for me, flexibility to have non solvent-based regeneration of the absorbent media. So that was obviously back in 2017. When we first did that, we’ve since like learned a lot about.
How there’s a need for regeneration. So that’s been something we’ve been building out the capability for not necessarily the product, more the capability, this is one learning. And then we’ve been introducing these sort of advanced analytics. So you understand how to make the product, what the product is made of and material informatics.
So you’re trying to close the loop and what is our performance data and how does that link to the material, properties and performance. And then. We have been mission-driven so it’s not just about biotech. It’s like opening up the clock to stuff like super molecular chemistry so that we can have peptide mimics instead of necessarily peptides because.
Some applications, let be very real. Like they require tighter price, performance pros, and reduced complexity of manufacturing. And so you’ve seen pool startups in the past. Like maybe it was by Aqua developing cool and science to capture stuff, and it’s like, nobody can, can afford that price point. And so it’s about reigning in the complexity, uh, which has been one of the other walls we’ve had to grow into and kind of find a way around.
Antoine Walter: There’s a lot to deconstruct in what you just said. So let me just try to break it down first, really for the Mughals, like me to regress roots you at Sorg, the PFAS, and you also that mechanism of ion exchange at the same time, that means PFAS is in the water. You have your substrate and at the end, PFAS is on your substrate.
You mentioned that you can originally rate it. How would you do that? And what, what do they become when you originally rate your.
Henrik Hagemann: So for us, it’s about the mass balance of PFAS. And it’s often overlooked when you do these new treatment solutions. So we, we basically have that solvent media, which has these small pack men, the Pacman’s stick to the PFAS in the water preferentially.
When you filled up this at solvent media, and it really looks like these small grants. Uh, if you mentioned buying a new shirt, like those small pouches that are inside, that is what the granules look like. And then once you’ve used it up, we take it offline. So you have a lead in a lag vessel, take it offline, and you basically apply an aqueous.
Which unclicked the chemical. So it introduced a pH change and assault that allows you to generate a smaller volume of PFAS waste, which is in a liquid form. And then you dispose of that liquid form as the hazardous waste, much like pharmaceutical waste or existing, uh, PFAS waste that’s destroyed. And then you can reuse.
We’ve covered that in our second and third patent, but we haven’t done this at scale yet because we need to test like the safety, the stability, the performance, the cost effectiveness, before we can go and finalize like the saturation of the media. So it’s yeah, I think it’s about what can this technology do for you?
You can flip the unit economics of treatment if you can regenerate the media. And that’s where the scientific, like, uh, enthusiasm originates from not just from like academic interests. So,
Antoine Walter: what is your, your vision there? Because you, you mentioned that you can reuse the substrates and if I get it right, it’s patented, but not yet industrialized, this reuse part, but what is your vision?
Is it like something you can read? Ad lib forever or at some points like a membrane would be clogging, let it’s like 10 paths or five paths or three paths. Jeff
Henrik Hagemann: feeding they’re already. Yeah, I think, I think it will really be like a three paths or five paths. What I envisioned is like, imagine how cool would be if we could have non Virgin.
It’s like, we do need it for space exploration. We use it right now for vaccine manufacturing. We use PFAS to put out fires that otherwise cannot be put out. And so I think there will be a use for it. We’ve got to restrict the number of youths. We cannot use it. Promiscuously in everything. And for that closed loop system, we need these like precision capture and ideally regenerate as a second phase solution.
Antoine Walter: So you mentioned the analytics as well. So you have this Pac-Man on the substrate, which are eating up the PFAS and at some points, I guess they’re fed. How do you determine mind at which points they cannot eat more just because their abilities.
Henrik Hagemann: It’s been so much analytical development efforts. And we’re really grateful to our partner who has been helping us with that, that this sort of innovate UK funded body in London.
So basically we do LCMS in tandem to see the performance, but we realized that wasn’t enough, even though it’s the gold standard for PFAS detection and grid and everything. It’s not enough to give you insights about where you capture what other species are really. So we’ve been working on these sort of stability and safety testing to see if we might release any sort of, uh, total nitrogen, like quality control to ensure that none of the functional groups had degraded, because it’s not enough just to say that PFAS is not coming up.
One of your materials, not stable, and that’s a real concern, then the water treatment space. And then it’s also about having these sort of other measures. So total organic carbon, uh, having. And understanding of functionalizing the material. So does it have the same profile in terms of NMR spectrum, as we would expect this material to have, and then linking that profile in, in the material composition, which is what NMR tells you back to the performance.
And that’s where we build our feedback loops to inform the next variant of PFAS media.
Antoine Walter: When you, I mentioned LCMS, that means you have a lab analyzes, or do you have also online measurements, which give you. An idea of where you stand.
Henrik Hagemann: Yeah. So we worked with a third party body that provides us this LCMS analysis.
And I think it’s important to have a third party to provide it because otherwise the data is kind of a bit biased. You can say, oh, this company has great data, but they’ve generated all of it themselves. And nobody has actually like analyze this water that they provide. I think the other point you touched on it’s the whole, one of the holy grails of.
Uh, we want to see an online, real time in situ PFAS sensor. And obviously there’s a lot of cool excitement going on for that, but the reality is right now, there isn’t a real time sensor for that yet there are cool new analytical techniques being developed, like total organic total oxidizable precursors assay, the torpor or the total organic flooring measurements.
But none of them are, are real time. And that’s really what we need.
Antoine Walter: Very clear. So now zooming a bit out. We have the substrate, which is in contact with water, I guess it must be in a kind of contact tank or something. Where’d you place that in your treatment train? What’s the shape. How does it look like?
Can you just describe.
Henrik Hagemann: Yeah. Yeah. So if you imagined like a large stainless steel tank, that operates a bit like a Brita filter, where you basically have water flowing in from the top coming down at the bottom, that’s the large application installation and there we’re trying to change the material. Not how the operator works.
And so by changing the, this sort of within the constraint of a granular media, you can reduce the complexity of operation. And I think, again, one of the learnings is you can do a lot of cool stuff in the lab. Maybe you can have a stirred bed reactor, and you’re going to have fractionation of whatever you’re doing, but it’s difficult to implement those with the operators we have.
And there is right now a shortage of operators. So introducing complexity there. It might mean that you cannot actually scale up. And so we’ve stuck with that pack bed vessel of operating, uh, because of that to retrofit. The cool thing we see is for these sort of, you mentioned this it’s for these sort of point of view.
So point of entry applications. Whether you just need a small volume of this media, because it has higher productivity per volume of material, but this like specialized grabbing mechanism there, you can have mechanisms of possibly under St. Cartridges where basically you capture much quicker with a smaller footprint.
So that users who couldn’t fit it in, in their house or at the entry of the house before now, And that’s one of the things that’s driving us in terms of prioritization of the, the materials that is now a
Antoine Walter: very intriguing point for me, it’s a discussion I somehow had with Sreenath Bolisetty from BluAct when he was on that same microphone, because he had a similar approach to you.
I mean, it’s not the same steps, right? It’s not the same way to coat it, but on the business model part, he was also looking at under the sink cartridges. Maybe in the industrial place, maybe been drinking water. And you mentioned that’s designed tests learn. And I guess that’s when you’re just starting out in that fields, you can just come out with one idea that that rules them all.
So you have to, to focus somewhere. And when I was reading your, your marketing materials and the different points where you were playing, I was seeing that point of views and that recalled me, you know, the study done on Americans, on PFAS in their blood that every single American. PFAS in his blood. So I was thinking if you combine those two and you say, Hey, you know, you have that in your body already today.
And your drinking water production plant is not able to cover you from that risk. So what if you could just screw something under your sink and you’re good. So it sounds like probably science fiction at that point of time, but why not on the long run? So if you were to have a crystal ball and you look at five or 10 years in the future, where do you think.
Is the best point to apply your technology is it’s under the sink is it’s in the drinking water treatment plants in an industrial treatment plant where
Henrik Hagemann: yeah, I have a love opinion about that, but I want to add one step to you before we do so one is. They found the Nordic council of ministers. So this is the government.
They basically put a price tag on the cost of PFAS chemicals and the blood in Europeans. It’s 84 billion euros in annual costs every year. And that’s across 740 million citizens roughly in EU. So you have actually more than a hundred dollars spent in, in health cost every year. Just for PFAS, you can see, like you can model that out and play with a different scenario.
But I think that is something which is driving us, but where I
Antoine Walter: want to understand that one. Very good, because it sounds very, very intriguing. Can you unpack that number? So it’s the cost on health because we are infected if I may say so with.
Henrik Hagemann: Yeah. So it’s, it’s because 97% of the population have detectable PFAS in the blood and the C8 science council, which was funded by the floor of Paloma industry, concluded that there’s a high certainty linked to six diseases.
Those six diseases are listed on the CA panel, the science panel there. And one of them is like a thyroid disease, et cetera, two cancers. And basically just because of those with high certainty, They tied it in to that 84 billion year old cost. They also included some environmental cost within that. But the majority of it is health cost really to the population.
And then they said, this might be an underestimate, but at least here is something and where the government, so we’re publishing this number.
Antoine Walter: Okay. I think we have now an even higher understanding of the problem, which, which leaves me back to my question, which was. Where do you intend to treat that problem first?
What is the best
Henrik Hagemann: place? Yep. So in my opinion, the highest impact area we can install, these solutions are as close to the source as possible. We can apply the polluter pays principle. We can help so many headaches and we can put a plug in the system. We cannot be like sister first who keeps rolling the Boulder up to the peak of the mountain.
And then it just falls down again because we are treating the symptom at the point of view. So the point of entry. I think we need to get, we need to work in partnership with the people and introduce a business case for why possibly a PFAS treatment is helpful. And if you can get PFAS treatment with regeneration, then it can enable the whole fluoropolymer polymer industry to actually operate.
Right now they’re under so much scrutiny and w we don’t want to spur on more scrutiny. There’s a lot already there. Like dark water movie is going around and flying left and right. I think we want to try and. Push that aside from won’t be prank, pragmatic, and trying to get close to these industrial sites.
Antoine Walter: let me be the devil’s advocate here because. A lot of the debates with generally speaking, micro pollutants in Europe, you have the Swiss approach, which is to say let’s religion, wastewater treatment plants, because that is the closest you can get to the point of production. And then you’re protecting the full water cycle.
But many of the countries have said, yeah, okay, nice. We’re protecting the environment. But at the end of the day, we want to protect the humans. So let’s put it simply in the drinking water treatment plant. And that way we don’t have to cope with the history of it. So it means the water is. Going to be free of micro pollutants on a very short path between drinking water treatment, plant and Westwood written Benton, the rest of the water cycle.
What, who cares about fishes? I’m really being extreme here, but just to say that on the paper treating as close as possible from the production points, it makes a lot of sense. I’m just wondering what is the acceptance of the producers to be also the one to treat it unless there’s a strong regulation, which forces them to do.
Henrik Hagemann: Yeah, I think there’s been a lot on the stick, right? It’s like, oh, regulation, regulation, regulation. And I think in the past we’ve had a tendency to take a very human centric approach to treatment. So as long as the humans did safe water jobs done, now we’re recognizing, oh, there was actually a price tag.
Attached to biodiversity loss. If we just lose the bees were so screwed and the bees also get impacted by these sort of things. So do the other species and the microphones. And so fast, we’ve been like in the beginning, we were viewed as these sort of like hippie environmentalist, because we cared about all sentient beings.
It was like, but we don’t care about it from the good of our heart. We care from about it because there was an economic price tag to it. I think that’s an important message just on that first point. And then the second one is. Yeah, let’s see if we can introduce some carrot. So could we have reuse of PFAS in a secondary face for some of these polluters?
Well, we call them polluters. Now they’re manufacturers, they’re enabling vaccines to be made. They’re enabling space suits to be made. Okay. That’s pretty cool. People want to do that, but they don’t recognize the backside of that. And so I think if you can have that as the second phase, it becomes a much more positive story and about the sustainability of that organization.
Long-term because some of these organizations might have to shut down if they are sitting with $20 billion of PFAS lawsuit, liabilities on their balance sheet shareholders, didn’t just protest. It’d be like divest from that. We don’t care if it’s in space, it’s too expensive. It’s too scary. And so I think those macro trends are in the.
Of doing this thing. And then, yeah, there was a lot of like people with stars on the back from these conversations in the past. But I think at this point we’re trying to be pragmatic with the things that are going on. So if that
Antoine Walter: gets you right, that means that the approach of treating as close as possible from the production wouldn’t necessarily need regulation because actually what’s at stake.
It’s such a risk, even for the company producing it, that they may be volunteering. To remove those
Henrik Hagemann: PFAS. Some companies do that and Trudeau’s to them like you have the Heineken or the L’Oreal, et cetera. Most of them will need some stick. Ultimately, humans need clarinet and stick. So great. There’s a lot of stick.
Let’s try and see if we can build some carrots.
Antoine Walter: Talking of sticks. Do you see the regulations actually coming and being enforced or is it still something which is in the discussions? Uh, still do my, my, my weird analogy with the micro pollutants when the European law came out at the framework directive, which was classifying that you would have to do something on micro pollutants, it was setting the bar somewhere in the future and already, including the opportunity that you can ask for delayed.
And you can ask several times for delays and the delays are each time, seven or nine years. So if you ask three different times for seven years, it makes 20 years where it, you still free of doing nothing. So just to say, there’s regulation and regulation. So w what is in the pipe? What did you see here?
Henrik Hagemann: Yeah. So I think there’s a chance to work with these different government regulatory ecosystem because they need to see that there’s a cost effective solution. They cannot just only introduce stick because it will close down the local economy and we will lose local jobs. They cannot afford that most economies rely on these things as a foundational element.
So what I think is missing is ecosystem awareness around the cost effectiveness of solutions and those dedicated. And then I think it is a bit like playing with fire. So it’s very powerful if managed, but hazardous, very hazardous to get it wrong. You saw the timing for the arsenic regulations that tilt many at sorbent startups.
And I think for PFAS, it is sadly, roughly proportional to the average income of the citizens within that country or state. Uh, so you have the Scandinavian country. That have actually introduced PFAS regulations. You have some of the dock region with Switzerland as an example, and Netherland, not less so, but that I’ve also introduced regulations.
And then you have these 12 states and the U S again, roughly proportional to average income like in the Northeast and the south west. And basically those two coast areas. What these sites represent, they provide this. Incubating periods, a breeding ground for new PFAS solutions. And then if you can demonstrate that price performance curve, you’re going to bring the regulators there much like Graham Pierce and the other step for membrane filtration back in the day, then show them this works at this scale.
There’s this business taste for the local. You operate it with people also get employed. So there was some sort of carrot as well. Then I think you can start to see regulations having. Before that many of the Western sites will not have enough teeth. You didn’t see the water framework regulations change in February, 2020 for PFAS.
And that was enacted into law this year, January. But again, those are mostly like in my mind, lip services until you see the price performance drove for the technologies, they cannot afford not.
Antoine Walter: So that means you have the technical side of it, which is you can remove it and all of that, but you have also the, the business side of it and the financial equation, which is, it has to be cost-competitive so that you can force people to treat them just because it’s affordable.
So the affordability comes into play with. Leads me to some business questions around what you’re doing. Let me take a preliminary question here, because you remind me a bit of Matthew silver, which I had the pleasure to have on that microphone, who he is a brilliant guy and who was sitting on that microphone.
That’s when he started being an entrepreneur in the water industry, he encountered. Many things he simply had not expected. So I’m just wondering you come with that tech background, you win the second prize and in that MIT contest and all of a sudden you’re sticking with the mission purpose, and you’re in the water industry.
Was it straightforward or did you have a lot of these design test and learn?
Henrik Hagemann: Uh, yeah, I think the first message when we came out and we were looking at doing a start-up out of it was, Hey guys, uh, developing a technology. It’s a battle. Getting to market is a war. And most of my team at that point, we were sitting around, right.
They were like, oh shit, I don’t like war, but I will be very honest. Like from me, I was like, oh, I kind of, I wore, I was like, I like this long cycling trips and like Sean and mark stairs where you don’t get to eat anything else, but like steam Mentos and like eat vegetables. So I think there was a recognition that.
Grow through many battles and Wyndham to get, to have a market adoption of your thing. There’s a massive step for us. And I’ll be very honest. There’s a big tail of agent projects that are Testament to just how few actually make the leap. So in our year there are 250 projects in 2014 and every year, since then, it’s been at least that number sometimes 300 now.
And there’s only about 50 ventures that are spun up. Competition, even though biotech is really hot and really cruel and apparently very fundable. I think one of the biggest ones is the different mindset required in academia. You can get away with developing something cool. If you can publish it. So we put out a publication PNS, if you can do that.
Just continue doing that. And then you’d get a pat on the bag and promotion eventually, but in commercial world, that’s not enough. You need to operate within constraint. And that’s where the engineering part of me is like turned on. It’s like, oh, amazing. So we can search this whole experimental space scientifically, but we’re stuck with just this quarter of it because of safety constraint or because of a cost constraint, we cannot do like 20 steps to making this material.
You got to keep it within. Or five and it’s like, oh, okay, stand up. Like, it’s an interesting challenge. And I think there was obstacles laid on top of IP negotiations with the university lab access. You cannot do this in a shed you’re handling stuff. That’s 50 times more toxic than arsenic. You could get sued so bad anywhere in the world for discharging these chemicals, even at the lowest levels.
And then you overlay that. But the challenge you just mentioned of bringing different disciplines together. So how are you going to get water process engineers talking to high throughput, screening scientists and material scientists under one roof, they speak different languages. They don’t even treat the same coffee.
Like everything is different, different cultures. Right? And I think that catches out. Many of us are startups and there were definitely challenges. We had to go.
Antoine Walter: Not that I want you to depress you here, but see if I recall, what’s what Paul O’Callaghan shared on that microphone. The time to adoption in the water treatment market is about 35 years between fundamental research and mass markets.
So even though you’re going to have early adopters and you you’ll be already somewhere along the way between 12 and 16 years from the moment you start steel, if you go by the average. It’s really a long bowl game, but you expect to be better than the average.
Henrik Hagemann: Yeah, I think, I think what’s exciting about it is you’re not stuck with just one thing when you’re doing entrepreneurship.
So in our case, we can develop a solution for PFAS and use that same tech stack to develop solutions for let’s say, just for the sake of it. Anti-microbial resistance and bacterial resistance or for a biological separation for bio manufacturing for the bioreactor. And so when you can do those bets in parallel, it becomes more let’s say for me, uh, satisfying.
If you’re just stuck with one thing for 35 years, it’s like, oh, just bang your head against the wall already because it’s like, yeah, it would be very more monitoring. And then the other thing that’s cool. It’s not just about treatment technology, it’s also about what you can do with it. So if you can have access to these pollution datasets that basically sit on top of the treatment technology at multiple sites, you can inform third parties, be it the government or the local insurance policy about, oh, this is a PFAS hotspot.
Maybe we should handle. Oh, oh, this is a P four hotspot. There is another problem. Just emerging whose cost of a new factory that’s been set up. We should do something that becomes really powerful. And then it becomes about more than just the treatment technology.
Antoine Walter: You mentioned that biotech is a field, which is easy to get funded.
I’m putting the easy into many brackets. And you also mentioned that there were many arsenic startups, which just died by waiting for the market to take off. So I think that’s the two extremes because you’re dying when you run out of cash, I guess, or out of motivation, probably as well, but out of cash is something that’s even more deadly.
How does that look like for you in terms of funding, do you go in to investment funds and you just push the door and say, Hey, I’m into PFAS plus I’m in the 30 and the 30 and the 35 and the 35 Siwa. And they’d just spread money at you. I’m really asking a stupid question here, but how does that look like?
Henrik Hagemann: I think one has to be like we, in general, as a field, have to be really disciplined with how we raise funding because the water treatment space is not just any market. It is a different beast. And I think often whether it’s the us and next startups or something else, we get into tricky situations because we bring on the wrong investors.
So that was one lesson for us. We had investors interested early on that didn’t understand anything about water treatment. And we said, okay, hold on a second. We’re just going to figure out our market. And we spent four years figuring out the market and the product that we wanted to go for before raising equity funds.
And then when it come to racing, VC funds, obviously that’s a different podcast, but really we optimized for. The partner that we could bring in, we want it, what you see again and again, this bankers turned VCs and they basically asked for a lot of financials and that’s, that’s it, that’s the diligence. And that’s what they care about for us.
We wanted to optimize for that risk around regulations. We wanted to optimize for that risk around market adoption that we all know is overlooked in water treatment. Uh, and so we actually brought on their corporate VC from the U S who’s really. Burst in us regulations and government, they’ve spent 90 years investing in sustainability and material science and they’re well connected to these top level officials.
So just before they locked down, they set up a PFAS panel for us. They brought in EPA official. They brought in people from the original PFAS Parkersburg lawsuit. And they brought in tech writers all in one roof. We actually in Carson, I one of the last year of conferences with bipartisan representation.
And I think that is a massive value add compared to just a financial and. And then yeah, well, our financial investors, we basically went out and found operators, turned VCs. So instead of bankers turn VCs, these are people that have run biotech companies or deep tech companies in the past. And they bring the empathy, they know how to build companies.
They don’t know the water treatment space. We lean on the corporate VCs for that, but they know how to build ventures. If I just connect
Antoine Walter: that to my, my question just before on the timeline. I mean VC and venture capital in general is still quite a new route for the water industry. And often, because there’s a disconnect between the timeline, a VC expects between investments and exits and the timing of the water technology adoption on the water market.
Cause if you expect the next day, it’s within six or eight years in the water market is going to be quite challenging. So do you have pressure to the extent you have to be as fast as if you were, I don’t know, Huber or Twitter or what you have some, some flexibility. Due to the markets, your address.
Henrik Hagemann: Yeah, I think that what we’re seeing a new breed of funders these days, that focus on deep tech and within deep tech, you might have dropped a strawberry companies.
You might have new quantum computing companies. You might have new semiconductor companies and the timelines there are changing. So they, they still didn’t expect venture returns, so the returns have to be large, but they have time horizons of possibly 10, 12 years. And they have very strict technical milestones.
So they understand the technology and they want to see that. So don’t get me wrong. It’s not easier, but the timelines are much better suited for this. And I think, again, it’s back to my first comment. You have to be very careful with actually stopping out what kind of investors you get on board. If you have a few local angels who are expecting a return in three years time, because they need to buy a car for their daughter, that’s really difficult.
Once they’re on your shareholder register, you can’t get rid of them. It’s worse than getting it. So I think that’s something to take advantage of macro trend for tech startups, aligning ourselves to those sort of large companies being built. And you saw the, the, the recent, uh, who bought them. Was it AutoCAD Autodesk?
There was a large acquisition recently for a software based, uh, water treatment.
Antoine Walter: And for record,
Henrik Hagemann: right? Yes. In a vice you see larger exits within our space and that’s. It’s still very nascent, but if that can become a macro trend, I think we can raise the profile of the space. Either
Antoine Walter: buys was the first of its kind.
So you can see it’s a two ways first way to see it is to, to look at it is to say, okay, it’s a new something, a new trend or a new path. And the other way to look at it is it’s a white elephant and there are not that much white elephant. So probably it’s a bits in between. I realize that. We have 50 minutes within the podcast.
And I didn’t even mention the name of your company, pure affinity. I’m asking you to have a look in my crystal ball. Where do you see pure affinity in five years? In 10 years. And then I have a bonus question.
Henrik Hagemann: Cool. Yeah. So I see definitive becoming a material science leader for these sort of environmental applications.
And define target. There is really to have PFAS as the first asset that we build in terms of ad steel in this sort of 10 year view, I would love for that to be like an institution. So vertically integrated across manufacturing, discovery, application engineering, and working with several partners to do it.
We’re not expecting to do it alone, but at scale that didn’t become a very large company. Trying to have those new breeds of company come out of Europe would to me be very exciting, trying to have them with a more diverse team makeup. So we have like 50% female team members. We have a high BME percentage of maybe 30, 40% trying to have those metrics and show that it leads to superior outcomes would be really exciting to.
Antoine Walter: You do realize that there was never an in history, a unicorn in the water industry. So would that be an ambition for you to, to be the first unique.
Henrik Hagemann: Uh, I think we don’t want to be the first necessarily, and we like to stay under the radar. So if we can be like at DSL to start with that would be good. And then, uh, once we build into a guest cell, it’s trying to become, have that granular media cell is a cash growth engine.
So you’re not just relying on new fundraising rounds and where you put that landmark for, like I said, 500 or 5 billion. That’s the valuation because you’re actually generating. For yourself, not necessarily massively profitable, but that’s where I want to get to. And where I think the water treatments spaced and operate.
I don’t think we can take these boom and bust cycles that the larger text-based content.
Antoine Walter: Well, here’s my bonus question, which is a curved bold. So you allow which transfer joker do you see at some point in time, an exit for you and starting something new or is your intention to, to stick with what you do and to really bring it as far as.
Henrik Hagemann: I think I see a massive chance to bring in more stuff to the pure affinity institution. And many of those new things would basically be like small incubated startups, almost the, where we are taking on new projects. For me personally, I would love to just stick with one. I liked these sort of long journeys, whether it’s a cycling trip or something else.
And I would like to make an example, read this one. We’re not trying to do. To build fond exit, or we are trying to build like really superior financial outcome to make it a case for this application. You can see what what’s possible. So like five years before us, there was an AGM startup that Tim about called Gingko Bioworks.
They’re right now going public with a $15 billion evaluation. And they’ve just been out a startup to do a PFAS biological destruction, which is really exciting to us. And a great example of what can be achieved. I have a
Antoine Walter: last question for you in that deep dive, we had that red threats of the competition that was at the very beginning of pure affinity.
And if I get that right, you won the second price and we’ve seen how that second price brought you to a place where not that much water start-up reached the point where you are clearly. I mean, Not to unicorn because it doesn’t exist yet. But I think your goal of being a gazelle is always something which is on the way clearly who won that competition because there must be crazy, crazy.
Henrik Hagemann: Yeah. Yeah. So the, the winner was Heidelberg from Germany and they had really cool technology for making circular proteins to make them heat stable. And they really tried. They tried to transform a technology. You’ve probably heard a lot about lately it’s PCR. They never spun out as a venture. It wasn’t as novel at the time, so they didn’t publish a high.
Peer reviewed paper, but it probably could have been a unicorn if it was executed as a startup, just about how many PCR tests are taking place. And if those could be more done, more easily with their technology, that would be great. Right. So it’s, it’s back to that question of what are the barriers, why didn’t they spin up something, maybe they were stuck with not access to labs or with IP negotiations and something else?
I think there’s a lot of untapped potential. It’s basically what I mean, there are one example. I think that is one
Antoine Walter: topic, which is on my book, at least for a while about this, how you can better the way and ease the way for entrepreneurs to translate great academic ideas into, into ventures. But clearly if I open that box right now, I have to keep you on that mic for another hour.
So. At some point in the future when you reach that unicornish level or as a level of whatever milestone, I think we have to have that discussion because that is really something which is probably the missing link today in our industry. Henrik has been a big pleasure to have the deep dive with you. I propose you to switch to the last section, which is the rapid for questions,
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Rapid fire questions:
Antoine Walter: So in that section, I tried to keep the questions short and you’ve seen that it’s not my first strength. Uh, and you can try to keep the answers short and don’t worry. I’m the one which is side tracking all the time. My first question is what is the most exciting project you’ve been working on?
Henrik Hagemann: So for me, it’s definitely a trying to see the PFAS regeneration, because I could just imagine that circular world with non Virgin PFAS saving lives, it’s very futuristic right now. But if you could combine that with these sort of engineered living materials, you would have. Materials that sense when PFAS is released, treated and capture it and then provide the means for you to regenerate it.
That to me would be really exciting and useful, not just exciting but useful. Is it science
Antoine Walter: fiction or will that happen
Henrik Hagemann: anytime? It’s science fiction right now, but people are working on it. And the European commission is funding engineered living materials, and people like Tom Ellis is doing this for biotech.
So it’s coming still slightly science fiction, but I think it has done a become science fact. Eventually. What’s your favorite part of your current? Oh, it’s working with, uh, with the team. I mean, just this week, I’ve been humbled to be lectured on new chemical pathway by a 19 year old. And then after that, I get to learn from a long-term water exec about the most efficient treatment train for medium hotness brown water remediation.
And it was about the variations in operating conditions for these two steps. And I was like, that’s fantastic. I just get humbled all the time. How many people
Antoine Walter: are you in
Henrik Hagemann: your, in your team today? Just today we had a new status, so we have 16 full-time people
Antoine Walter: now. Oh, of which two were part of your original team?
Henrik Hagemann: The competition. Yeah. And one of those two is part time. So really it’s a long journey. Yup.
Antoine Walter: What is the trend to watch out in the water industry? And you’re not allowed to answer.
Henrik Hagemann: Yeah. So I think I’ll just take a step back here. It’s I think to me, it’s translating tools into our space, so let’s be honest.
We’re not first adopters. We’re learning from others because we cannot afford the high development cost. So for me, those are like circular economy, that biotech tools. Decentralized approaches and cloud-based digitization. And what I mean by that is how can we leapfrog other sectors? We want to avoid the whole mess with on-prem digitalization and move straight to cloud for digitalization.
And I think those are some of the core things and then combine that all together. And the coolest trend you’re going to see is pollution datasets for the sector, predictive capability with that and inform policy. That would be, yeah.
Antoine Walter: And they’re getting, if I side for Q we open one hour, because that is also one of my topics, which, which is my bucket is, but which is close to my heart.
What is the thing you care about the most when you’re working on a new project and what is the one you care?
Henrik Hagemann: Yeah. So for me, the most is how to do this efficiently. So without waste of resource and by applying a failure or originates from the failure to foresee failure mindset, you can see the poster behind, but basically it says the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in.
And I think that applies to new projects, the less you bleed in customer adoption. The thing that you’re least about is basically like exactly which technical approach we use. I’m a more promiscuous founder I want to solve for the problem. Not necessarily for the technology, as long as it’s sustainable, I’m happy to, to learn new ways of doing things.
Antoine Walter: Do you have sources to recommend, to keep up with the water and waste, but the market trends.
Henrik Hagemann: Yeah. Yeah. So I think your podcast is obviously one of them are definitely the graphics. They’re amazing. And then another one is like cool, scientific hacker competitions. So you check out just the most recent, let’s say agent projects, whatever, lots of wacky ideas.
And those wacky ideas might be pushing frontier knowledge in five, 10 years from now. And then I love this sort of nature inspired approach has read academic journals and biomimetic design. You can even learn how to design a better treatment plant with the way you connect the pipes, like a leaf and that sort of wacky stuff, and really be very actionable.
Antoine Walter: And last question, would you have someone to recommend me to have them that same microphone?
Henrik Hagemann: Yeah. So I think the Sylmar group is one Peter Sillman, Michael Wardee and lonelier as well alone. Yes. Nicole, who is their CEO might be one as well. I’ll add a foot one because I’m a founder. I don’t follow rules that will, uh, I would say, imagine hates tools.
Tele Ellie trumped. If you haven’t talked to her yet, she is excellent as well.
Antoine Walter: We have something in the pipe. I cannot say it’s done, but we have something in the pipe. They’re amazing. What Henrik has been a pleasure. To spend that little bit of an hour, sorry for that with you. Um, I’d love to have. You again on that microphone to discuss your next steps and all the other topics, which I’ve put in the fridge for today, but I would have had so much more questions for you.
So talk to you
Henrik Hagemann: soon. Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. Yeah. Thanks for listening to don’t waste water. This podcast was brought to you by GF piping systems. Loved this. Head over to apple podcast to subscribe, rate and leave a review. See you next time.