New technology to make microcapsules for food, drug and other industries

AqBit is the core supramolecular chemistry that powers the full range of Aqdot product innovations (credit: Aqdot)

Research in the Department of Chemistry into supramolecular assembly of microcapsules using cucurbiturils led to the spin-out company Aqdot.

Cucurbiturils are barrel-shaped molecules that powerfully attract and capture materials. They have multiple applications, including carrying and releasing fragrance when triggered, and providing safe and effective gene delivery for healthcare.

Interest in synthetic microcapsules for drug delivery, cell encapsulation or food additives had grown because bespoke design of the size, structure and core contents would allow tailoring to specific application. However, the existing methods suffered from poor stability, encapsulation and loading efficiencies, as well as heterogeneity in microcapsule composition and dispersion.

Scherman and Abell addressed the industrial challenge of achieving efficient, scalable production of microcapsules by devising a one-step approach that enables customisable functionality.

Realising the potential of their discoveries, the researchers patented the key technology and, in 2012, they founded Aqdot Limited to exploit the new supramolecular approach to microcapsule fabrication for applications in the food, cosmetics, textile, pharmaceuticals and agrochemical industries.

Aqdot, which currently employs 23 people (June 2021), has developed a range of products based on the cucurbituril encapsulation technology, some with distribution in the USA, throughout Europe and in China. Based on the core technology, pathfinder products were developed including Oderase, a series of unique odour-erasing household products sold by Ocado and Amazon.

Aqdot also has an exclusive agreement with Elementis to deliver proven odour capture and fragrance release benefits to anti-perspirant and deodorant formulators.

The technology has been scaled up to multi-tonne capability for incorporation into household and personal care products, textiles, paints and coatings, plastics, and filters.