The 2018 finals of Imagine Chemistry recently took place in Gothenburg, Sweden. Ten teams were selected to continue collaborating with AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals or one of our partners. We asked the winners to share their thoughts on Imagine Chemistry and working with AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals. Here we speak with Green Lizard Technology.

“When I go back to my company and explain this experience to the supervisors above me, it’s going to be an eye opening paradigm shift for them, because nobody in the US is pursuing collaborative research in quite the manner that AkzoNobel is doing with Imagine Chemistry.”

Team name: Green Lizard Technology
Team members: Fergal Coleman and Alex Grous
Location: Uk and US
Mentor: Han Bevinakatti
Challenge area: Zero-footprint surfactant platforms
Award won: Joint development agreement 

Green Lizard Technology is a spin-out of Queen’s University Belfast specializing in green chemistry. For one of their research projects they have partnered with US-based Dixie Chemical and Felda Global Ventures, a Malaysia-based raw material supplier, to sustainably produce glycidol, an ingredient in green surfactants. The Imagine Chemistry jury was so convinced of the versatility and commercial potential of their process that they decided to award the team with the top prize, a joint development agreement.

Fergal Coleman, Project Leader from Green Lizard Technology, and Alex Grous, Commercialization Manager from Dixie Chemical, represented the project at Imagine Chemistry. In the video below, shot midway through the event, they give a bit of background into their project and what they hoped to get out of Imagine Chemistry.

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Given that their aim was a JDA, the team was satisfied and pleasantly surprised with the result. But as Fergal notes, “We actually found out that we were all winners regardless of whether we got a prize.” Alex adds, “We got a lot of experience out of this project, and even if we didn’t get the JDA we still would have walked away satisfied that we learned a lot more about this industry. Now that we have the JDA we’re excited to have a partner to potentially go to market with.”

While they may not have been shocked by their award, there were things that surprised them about Imagine Chemistry. Fergal explains, “AkzoNobel didn’t know all the potential applications for our products because they’re so new, but they liked our idea and were willing to take a risk on it.” Alex adds, “I’ve been involved with several startup competitions and it was always about pitching to financiers. What was really refreshing with this program is that it was technology and idea driven versus financially driven. I know financials played a part in it, but it was really about letting the idea stand on its own and getting a collaborative project going, as opposed to just focusing on who has the best forecasted ROI.”

The two hope that their agreement leads to lots of interaction and shared learning and additional R&D projects focused on some of glycidol’s many potential applications. But they also hope to make a real world impact.

Alex explains, “I’ve spent most of my career working with biobased chemicals. You see a lot of fantastic ideas coming out of R&D centers that haven’t gone anywhere commercially. What’s exciting about this is that it actually has significant relevance in the marketplace. Our platform could be a really good success story for sustainability and biobased chemicals as a whole.” Fergal adds, “Having spent several years doing chemistry R&D, I’ve found that many of the projects I’ve worked on don’t make it past the proof-of-concept stage. To see a real world application of something that we started in the lab is exciting to imagine and would be hugely rewarding.”

To get things started, AkzoNobel will set up a team to identify gaps in what is needed to go to commercialization and they will use this as the basis for the joint development agreement. Stay tuned to find out how their collaboration progresses!