By one estimate, more than 350,000 synthetic chemicals are now in use around the world. That’s a major challenge both for the environment and for public health: Industrial chemicals, including known carcinogens, now show up everywhere from the deep ocean to breast milk in nursing mothers.
Sudoc, a startup that spun out of research by Carnegie Mellon University chemists and winner of the On the Rise (0-4 years in business) category of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards, is working on one corner of the challenge—chemicals used for heavy cleaning. “It’s our mission to outperform these chemicals so we can remove them,” says CEO Roger Berry.
The startup’s technology is based on biomimicry, taking inspiration from an enzyme in the liver that “supercharges hydrogen peroxide to essentially tackle micro-pollutants,” says Berry. The catalyst speeds up an oxidation process that can be used for cleaning, and then ultimately burns itself out. “When the oxidation job is done, it’s no longer in the environment,” he says.
The company’s first product tackles mold remediation, using one-eighth the amount of chemicals but performing better, Berry says. It comes in powder form in small pouches rather than large jugs, making it cheaper to ship. For workers trying to clean up mold, who can get chemical burns and throat irritation from standard cleaning products, it’s also safer to use.
While more sustainable cleaning products exist for things like spraying your kitchen counter, the company wanted to tackle bigger challenges. “These are spaces where generally there aren’t sustainable alternatives,” Berry says. “And we’re able to really create something that has the efficacy, so people will actually use it.”
The company’s technology can also be used for larger challenges like cleaning wastewater. It could later be used for completely different applications, like making green hydrogen. “We have really good evidence that we can speed up and make much more efficient and possibly economically viable the splitting of hydrogen from water,” he says.