Laval-based startup Dispersa has raised $3 million to support the growth of surfactants that are biodegradable, non-toxic and not derived from petroleum or palm oil.
Surfactants are the chemicals used in soaps, dish detergents, shampoos and cleaners that break up oil molecules to allow for easy clean-up.
But surfactants can present environmental concerns, including being sourced from fossil fuels, or palm oil that is harvested from farms created by clear-cutting rainforests. They are also harmful if consumed, and take a long time to break down in nature.
Dispersa was founded in 2019 by entrepreneur and scientist Nivatha Balendra, who sought a greener solution to oil contamination after the Lac-Mégantic train derailment in Quebec which killed 47 people and contaminated the local environment with hydrocarbons.
Balendra made a breakthrough in her research at L’Institut national de la recherche scientifique in Quebec City when she came across bacteria that produce biosurfactants. Her company has created an alternative biosurfactant made from waste feedstock that works to solve these concerns, while being part of a circular approach.
In a press release, Dispersa says it has raised half of the $3 million from grants and half via venture capital.
The round was led by Invest Nova Scotia, with participation from Fonds Économie Circulaire (Circular Economy Fund), Fondaction, Dragonfly Ventures, Good & Well and BoxOne Ventures.
Other participants through the Circular Economy Fund include RECYC-Quebec, Natural Products Canada, Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, IRAP, GreenShoots, Coralus, and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
In the release, Jennifer Fuccillo, investment associate at Invest Nova Scotia, said her organization is “proud to lead Dispersa's first equity raise alongside a national group of mission-driven investors. We look forward to working with this trailblazing company in scaling their technology and establishing themselves as a competitive leader in the global biosurfactant space."
With the money, Dispersa says it will continue its growth and scale-up.
In the release, Dispersa also notes that surfactants can pollute water streams as they degrade. It names components like sulfates which, at high concentrations, can impact human health.
A 2021 article review published in Environmental Science and Pollution Research outlined various ways surfactants can harm humans, such as "long-term metabolic effects and disruption of the human endocrine”, as well as eye and respiratory problems.
In nature, fossil or palm oil-based surfactants have been found to cause deteriorating water quality and negatively impact flora and fauna. The company says it offers an environmentally-friendly alternative.
Dispera’s surfactant is named PuraSurf. It is a biosurfactant, made as a by-product of bacteria-fed food waste like oils and sugars in a fermentation process Dispersa calls BioEterna.
PuraSurf comes in two forms. The first is for detergents and cleaners, the second for personal care products. It is also biodegradable, the company says, thus lingering for a shorter time in nature.
“With this pre-seed round of investment, Dispersa is poised to address the growing market demand for natural biosurfactants in consumer products,” Balendra stated in the release. “Our goal is to ensure that sustainability is not compromised by affordability. This investment will allow us to do exactly that as we scale towards commercialization."