Via Separations Tackles Manufacturing’s Exorbitant Thermal Energy Usage

Imagine you’re cooking pasta. If you waited for all the water to boil off rather than straining the pasta, think about how much longer it would take. The longer it takes, the more energy it uses.

That’s basically what happens in vast numbers of manufacturing processes. Filtration membranes aren’t sturdy enough for chemical separations, so immense amounts of thermal energy are used.

Via Separations’ solution? Build a better membrane.

“When people think about membranes and filtration, it’s basically synonymous with water, but we’re using more energy separating chemical compounds from one another than we are in water filtration, we’re spending more money doing that, and we’re creating more emissions doing that,” explains Shreya Dave, the company’s CEO and co-founder. 

“Plastic and paper and fertilizers aren’t going away, and the embodied energy and embodied emissions for that are really significant,” she adds. “Twelve percent of U.S. energy consumption goes to separating and purifying chemical compounds.”

Via Separations’ technology can reduce the energy needed for chemical separation by 90 percent and save manufacturers the associated heating costs. In certain situations, the membrane can even improve manufacturers’ throughput.

Via Separations has its pick of industries to zero in on, but is starting with two: food and beverage and paper. In the future, the company will address chemicals and plastics.

“The paper industry has huge energy implications—we’re talking about saving half as much energy as is used for all air travel in the country,” Dave says. “This is not by changing anyone’s habits, but just improving the manufacturing process. That’s what gets me out of bed.”

Via Separations came to Greentown Labs in 2018, drawn to the incubator’s 24-bench wet lab. Next year, the 12-person company will focus on scale-up, lifetime and durability tests, and field trials.

Greentown Labs is a community of bold, passionate entrepreneurs creating solutions for today’s biggest climate and environmental challenges. Located in Somerville, Mass., the Greentown Labs Global Center for Cleantech Innovation is the largest cleantech incubator in North America, operating a 100,000 sq. ft. campus comprised of prototyping and wet lab space, shared office space, a machine shop, electronics lab, and a curated suite of programs and resources. Greentown Labs is home to more than 100 startups and has supported more than 230 since its inception.