Revolutionary air and water purification material clinches Spark 2010 title

21 October 2010

A world-leading inorganic composite material developed by a University of Auckland research team that promises to revolutionise environment purification of air and water has won this year's top award in the Spark $100K Challenge.

PhotoPURE – developed by a group of PhD students and their supervisor Professor Wei Gao – has already attracted interest in health circles for its air purification capabilities and within the waste water treatment industry because of its novel and advanced blend of nanoscience and photocatalytic technology that brings both higher effectiveness and lower cost.

The new technology, a green process that creates no secondary contaminants or other harmful by-products, means environmental impurification can be eradicated through the use of light energy.

Due to its unique "nanoarchitecture", PhotoPURE is more efficient and provides a longer-lasting purifying effect, the developers say. With its low energy consumption, long life-time and minimal maintenance requirements, PhotoPURE is set to radically reduce purification costs whilst offering improved air and water quality.

"It is always exciting to see a company embedded within The University of Auckland's science and entrepreneurial pathways come out on top in this competition, but PhotoPURE really does stand out as an initiative that could have global ramifications, particularly within the world's healthcare systems," Business School Dean Professor Greg Whittred says.

Spark Steering Committee chair Geoff Whitcher says it is pleasing to see PhD students combining with their professor in an initiative of this quality. PhotoPURE combines groundbreaking ideas with up-to-the-minute technology and a global vision for commercialising its potential.

PhotoPURE – created by students Jenny Xu, Jenny Chu and Ian Yan along with Professor Gao – has won $20,000 and six months' incubation time at business incubator The ICEHOUSE.

Runners-up are the Healthy Memory Company, a venture looking at ways to improve the brain's resilience and reduce memory loss in baby boomers, which won $10,000 in seed capital and three months in the ICEHOUSE.

Third equal place-getters were GI Joes, which has developed a medical device for diagnosing gastric problems through the electrical activity of the stomach, and One Beep, which proves inter-connectivity via radio waves for computers in impoverished and remote regions of the world.

Spark, in its eighth year, encourages a spirit of innovation and culture of enterprise at The University of Auckland, and has already fostered the creation of 65 start-up ventures which collectively employ more than 250 people and sell products in 22 countries. The 2010 Spark Challenge has seen 286 entries whittled down to 65 semi-finalists and then 12 finalists.

Spark chief executive Graeme Fielder says selecting the winner this year has not been an easy feat. "The entries have been extremely diverse, matched with strong teams with ideas that have introduced new medical devices and aids, food products, purification and communication technologies, and social ventures that sought to end poverty or encourage fair trade.

"In addition to our next generation of entrepreneurs, Spark this year in particular has stimulated a wave of individual transformations.

"This includes graduates taking entrepreneurial mindsets to high profile corporate positions, scientists and engineers obtaining an appreciation of the path of commercialisation and importance of intellectual property, graduates becoming social pioneers or continuing their business education at top US business schools."