Cost-effective, portable and automated platform for microplastics characterization

EPA Contract Number: 68HERC21C0043
Title: Cost-effective, portable and automated platform for microplastics characterization
Investigators: Batalin, Maxim
Small Business: Lucendi, Inc.
EPA Contact: Richards, April
Phase: II
Project Period: April 1, 2021 through March 31, 2023
Project Amount: $400,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase II (2021) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Water


Annually over 8 million tons of plastic flows into the ocean causing an estimated $13 Billion damage to marine ecosystems. Microplastic particles (MP) are those with diameters <5mm and constitute the largest class of plastic pollution in the open ocean with recent estimates accounting for as much as 90% of all plastic litter. MP are even found in up to 94% of tap water in the United States. Due to their small size, it is especially difficult to accurately sample, quantify and characterize MP.

Lucendi is developing Aqusens-MP - a cost-effective, portable and automated platform for MP identification and characterization. Our platform is based on lens-free computational microscopy coupled with machine learning. It enables monitoring water samples with high-throughput (100ml-1L/hour), while maintaining a wide dynamic range of 4μm =96 1mm. In contrast, existing solutions to MP identification and characterization are mostly laboratory based and involve laborious, time-consuming processes, expensive equipment and expertise to operate.

During Phase I we have tested an initial prototype and verified its capabilities to a) identify MP in flow and distinguish them from other microobjects, b) characterize identified MP by color, shape, size, morphology and phase properties. We have also demonstrated feasibility of our techniques to perform MP composition estimation by applying phase metrics and lens-free polarization imaging via an additional mode we will be adding in Phase II. These results pave the way for productization and evaluation of Aqusens-MP in Phase II to validate its deployment capabilities. We envision Aqusens-MP application as a cost-effective and high-throughput screening instrument that can be used to perform bulk MP measurement and statistics prior to other characterization methods.

An initial focus for our technology will be in water quality sensor market (an estimated $5 billion market), with an early emphasis on MP and particulate monitoring at water treatment facilities (an estimated $660 million market in US and EU). Furthermore, secondary markets are currently explored for other versions of the platform, including aquaculture ($242 billion market) and algae-based bioproducts ($5 billion market). Our initial market research and customer discovery process suggests that the first adopters of our technology will likely be from the research and scientific community, with follow on models of the product designed and mass-produced for professional users.

The proposed platform will also have far-reaching environmental benefits by enabling portable cost-effective analysis of water samples for MP, toxic algae and other microorganisms, as well as general particulates analysis.

SBIR Phase I:

Cost-Effective, Portable and Automated Platform for Microplastics Characterization  | Final Report