Innosuisse Annual Magazine 2020

An entire laboratory in a single cartridge

Bacteria are natural inhabitants of water. In the treatment of drinking water, the number of bacterial cells present in the water plays an important role. “Even in Switzerland, it takes several steps before water can be drunk without concern,” says Luigino Grasso of bNovate.

To determine the microbiological quality of the water, a testing method that dates back more than 100 years is still used, in which water samples are taken, brought to the laboratory and tested there – it can take days until results are available. Instead of bringing water to the lab, bNovate brings the lab to the water. With the support of Innosuisse, the Lausanne-based start-up has already developed the online flow cytometer BactoSense, which automatically determines the amount of bacteria on site and transmits the data online. In the event of contamination, the device immediately sends a warning.

bNovate employees during product development in the laboratory.

The Eurostars project MultiSense Aqua is a further development: the measuring device, which is installed in a drinking water treatment plant or directly on the water network, is intended to provide information not only on the quantity of bacteria but also on their viability and activity and on particle size distribution.

The system can be thought of as a printer with different ink cartridges, explains Luigino Grasso. The bacteria in the water are automatically dyed with different colours – depending on the selected parameter – and then pass through a laser beam. The reflected light not only indicates how many particles are present and in what size, but also provides information on whether the bacteria are still alive or not. “We put a whole lab into the cartridge,” says Luigino Grasso. In addition to bNovate, two Viennese universities and another Swiss company, Sigrist-Photometer AG, are participating in the research for the international 2-million project.

“As an SME, we work in the drinking water market, which is highly competitive worldwide. The support from Innosuisse gives us the resources we need and helps us to move forward quickly with our development.”

Dr Luigino Grasso

technical director at bNovate Technologies AG

Further support is being provided to bNovate for a “Horizon 2020 SME Instrument” project. Its goal is to bring to market a rapid, automated online analysis device that specifically screens drinking water for coliform bacteria. These bacteria are indicative of faecal contamination and are a major problem for municipal water supplies worldwide. “We are very proud of this support because the issue represents a big challenge, and we are thus playing in the Champions League of SMEs,” says Luigino Grasso. Innosuisse helped to find international coaches as part of its EEN services.

The device from bNovate measures the amount of bacteria in drinking water and shows how active they are.

Support by Innosuisse

  • Innovation Project
  • Eurostars
  • EEN Enterprise Europe Network: Horizon 2020 SME Instrument phases 1 and 2