Treellum Technologies: Bringing light to labs

By September 7, 2020ICIQ

Treellum Technologies, the new spin-off created at the Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ), a BIST centre, brings together the institute’s expertise and know-how on photocatalysis and reactor-building.

Photochemistry is of immense importance in the natural world: from vision to photosynthesis, life as we know it relies on the interactions between molecules and light. Using light to provide the activation energy required to start a reaction can have multiple benefits. Some photochemical reactions are several orders of magnitude faster than their thermal analogues for instance. In other cases, using light to trigger a reaction can enable an otherwise inaccessible reaction path – which is exactly what Treellum Technologies intends on doing. The project includes a new line of photo-reactors with complete temperature and light intensity control.

We hope our technologies will help researchers worldwide to do better science,” states Esther Alza, who spearheads the project as its Chief Executive Officer.

A collaborative process

Over the years, many ICIQ research groups have developed in-house photo-reactors tailored to their needs. This has been possible with the help and guidance of the institute’s mechanical workshop manager Jose Luís León, who is also Treellum’s co-founder, and with the collaboration of ICIQ’s technology development unit CSOL.

We created Treellum Technologies to merge the know-how on photo-reactors generated by all of ICIQ’s research groups. This has allowed us to develop something flexible enough to cater to the chemical community,” explains Julio Lloret-Fillol, ICREA Research Professor, ICIQ Group Leader, and Chief Scientific Officer of the newly registered company.

Treellum Technologies’ first reactor consists of 16 reaction-vials distributed over four independent groups. Its circular design provides a constant magnetic stir to the temperature-controlled reaction vials (with a -40 to 100ºC range). Each vial is irradiated by a set of independent wavelength customisable LEDs, meaning the intensity of the light can be modified for each experiment.

These features give chemists a versatile tool which finally gives photo-chemical experiments the reproducibility needed to do excellent science. It can be used in a wide range of scenarios to obtain detailed information: from running kinetic or mechanistic studies of reactions to molecule screening for drug discovery or lead generation.” explains Lloret-Fillol.

The reproducibility problem

This reactor is useful for both academic and industrial chemists,” claims Ruben Martin, ICREA Research Professor, ICIQ Group Leader, and the company’s co-founder. “The Treellum Technologies reactor allows chemists to screen many products in a fast and easy way, thus speeding up the discovery phase in fields ranging from drug discovery to catalyst design where high throughput experimental techniques (HTE) are used to accelerate the optimisation of chemical reactions.”

HTE is a reliable tool only when experiments are reproducible, in other words when reaction parameters are well controlled – which is currently a challenge with other photo-reactors. “This new reactor device will represent a significant step-forward in improving the reproducibility in photochemical settings,” says the scientist.

The company’s first product also allows researchers to control the instrument through Bluetooth via an Android App. “This works fantastically: you have full control over different parameters, which is an essential aspect in synthetic photochemical reactions,” explains Paolo Melchiorre, ICREA Research Professor, ICIQ Group Leader, and Co-Founder of Treellum.

Technology transfer

Treellum Technologies successfully condenses more than four years of development of photochemical reactors at ICIQ into a first-class photoreactor that will boost the spread of photochemistry in academia and industry. Patent protection will be key in the commercialisation of the device,” states Frédéric Ratel, Industrial Property Unit Manager at ICIQ.

It is important to Alza, the company’s CEO, to create useful instrumentation for research labs. “Our team is made up of experts in chemistry, so we know what is needed to conduct excellent research. By developing cutting-edge technology, we want to help solve the problems researchers are having in their labs right now. We have more ideas of technologies to develop in mind,” she declares.

The company, which plans to start operations by the end of 2020, has protected its technology with a European patent. “This is a direct translation of innovative experience from the lab to the market. The design of the scientific instrumentation incorporates the know-how and vision of experimental chemists – which, in the end, are the ones who know exactly the problems to overcome,” concludes Miquel A. Pericàs, ICIQ Group Leader and Director, and Treellum Technologies Co-Founder.

More information can be found on the ICIQ website.