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Banner reading "Sironix" in a laboratory

Photo: Brandon Patoc

In 2015, researchers in Paul Dauenhauer’s laboratory at the University of Minnesota were exploring new technologies for using biomass—materials derived from organic, renewable sources—to make the same chemical building blocks needed to manufacture plastics, rubber, detergents, and more that are normally derived from fossil fuels.

In the process, they discovered something exciting. One of the plant-based compounds did more than replace its petroleum-based counterpart; it actually worked better.

“We discovered this other variation that gave much better performance,” said Dauenhauer, PhD, professor of chemical engineering and materials science in the College of Science and Engineering. “A performance advantage is a really big deal. We were lucky enough to have this realization as a team, that there was a much bigger target here that we didn’t know about.”

The result was Eosix, a patented method for making nontoxic, sustainably-sourced ingredients called surfactants. Dauenhauer and laboratory member Christoph Krumm—then a doctoral student—cofounded startup company Sironix Renewables in 2016 with help from the Venture Center at UMN Technology Commercialization. Krumm now leads the company as CEO at its headquarters in Seattle.

Eosix is based on two different plant-based components. The first is an agricultural waste product called furans, which the team derives from the sugars that make up two-thirds of the volume of biomass materials. The other component is a natural oil, which can come from a variety of different plants. Deciding exactly which oils to use allows Sironix to optimize Eosix for different uses, Krumm said.

“It’s a whole new technology base from which we can make a variety of surfactant materials beyond just the ones we’re focusing on now,” he said. “There are small tweaks we can make to this technology that enable us to access different market application areas.”

Read the full story in Inquiry.