Professor Eoin Casey, Head, UCD School of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering, has been named the 2018 Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Entrepreneur of the Year at this year’s SFI Science Summit.

At University College Dublin (UCD), where Professor Casey leads a large research group, his research activities are focused on the exploitation and control of bacterial biofilms in water treatment processes. Professor Casey is also a principal investigator in the BEACON SFI Research Centre.

In 1914 the Activated Sludge process, which uses bubble aeration, was first developed, and is still the dominant process used today, to treat wastewater. However this process is highly inefficient and wastes as much as 70% of the energy it takes to push oxygen bubbles into the water. On a global scale the process of treating water requires as much as 2-3% of a nation’s electricity demands.

In 2007 Professor Casey filed his first patent on a new technology, the Membrane Aerated Biofilm Reactor (MABR), to treat wastewater. Initial small-scale experiments at UCD, and a scaled-up experiment in a large wastewater plant, demonstrated that the MABR technology used up to 75% less energy compared to air bubbles to support bacteria for wastewater treatment.

Following patenting of the MABR technology, with the support of the UCD technology transfer team at NovaUCD, Professor Casey co-founded OxyMem, as a UCD spin-out company to commercialise the technology, along with Dr Eoin Syron and Wayne Byrne.

Initial seed funding enabled OxyMem to establish its manufacturing facilities, in Athlone, Co. Westmeath, and complete field trials of its technology. Following the success of these field trials the OxyMem technology has now been deployed, at commercial scale, in 30 major water treatment projects in 14 countries around the world. The company currently employs a staff of 25 people.

Professor Eoin Casey, UCD School of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering said, “I am delighted to accept the 2018 SFI Entrepreneur of the Year Award. The commercialisation of the OxyMem technology would not have happened with the support of SFI in funding research in my laboratory. I would like to acknowledge the excellent and innovative work by the researchers in my group over the years and this Award helps showcase that curiosity-driven research can, in the long term, have a tangible impact on society.”

Professor Orla Feely, UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact said, “I would like to congratulate Professor Eoin Casey on winning the prestigious 2018 SFI Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Professor Casey is passionate about the translation of fundamental research into new products and processes. He has created an innovation culture in his UCD engineering laboratory that led to the identification of the commercial potential of the MABR technology. He then worked closely with the UCD technology transfer office at NovaUCD to secure the intellectual property and engaged with Enterprise Ireland to fund prototyping which led him to co-founding OxyMem as a UCD spin-out company.”

“As a member of the OxyMem leadership team Professor Casey has helped the company create jobs, especially in the Athlone area to boost local employment, to grow and to secure clients around the world. The company which has secured several million euro in investment has already earned worldwide recognition as it has twice been included in Cleantech Group’s list of the 100 most innovative firms in the cleantech sector globally.”

Professor Casey was presented with the Award at the 2018 SFI Science Summit were together with over 350 leading members of the Irish research community, SFI celebrated their researchers’ contributions to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

Acknowledging the award winners, including Professor Casey, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, said, “I am pleased to see the outstanding work of the Irish research community acknowledged through these SFI Science Awards. The recipients are among Ireland’s top researchers and the awards recognise the contribution they are making in a number of areas including industry collaborations, entrepreneurship, communication and public engagement. I would like to congratulate each awardee on their tremendous achievements, their discoveries will bring economic growth and societal development in Ireland.”

SFI Director General and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, Professor Mark Ferguson, said, “Every year the Science Foundation Ireland Awards provide an opportunity to highlight some of the excellent impacts and achievements of our research community. I want to congratulate the winners on their dedication and the contribution they are making to Ireland’s economy and society. I am confident that their success will be a source of inspiration to their peers and, more importantly, to the next generation of researchers in Ireland. At Science Foundation Ireland we very pleased to see the superb quality of research that our funding enables, and are proud that Irish research continues to be impactful and world-leading.”

Professor Casey’s research activities, which span fundamental research through to applied research, are supported by Science Foundation Ireland, along with the European Research Council, Horizon 2020, Irish Research Council, Enterprise Ireland and industry.

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