So Sponge is the result of a collaboration between two researchers, Melaz Tayakout, a professor at UCBL, and Elsa Jolimaître, a research engineer at IFPEN.
So Sponge is the result of a collaboration between two researchers, Melaz Tayakout, a professor at UCBL, and Elsa Jolimaître, a research engineer at IFPEN. Their work centers around transition aluminas, which are porous materials based on aluminum oxide, commonly used as active phase supports in heterogeneous catalysis for industrial chemical reactors (refining, petrochemistry, etc.).
Having both worked extensively on aluminas, they were well aware of another property of these materials: their ability to condense gases below their saturation vapor pressure by confinement in mesopores. Leveraging this knowledge and the solid's affinity for water vapor, they devised a new application by redirecting their use. They decided to utilize their thermodynamic properties to capture water vapor through capillary condensation. By placing these solids in contact with ambient air, their idea was to regulate humidity spontaneously and without external energy input, capturing water beyond a certain relative humidity threshold and releasing it below that point.
Their interest in applications in the food industry led them to focus on agricultural greenhouses, where humidity poses a major challenge.
The project was selected in the "Tech4Earth" call for proposals, jointly supported by PULSALYS and the University of Lyon, which helped validate the concept and propose an initial product.
Guirec Courbon, CEO of So-Sponge and a serial entrepreneur for 10 years, joined the project to lead the operations and contribute to product development and market entry strategy.
Elsa Jolimaître, CTO of So-Sponge, was an R&D engineer and project manager at IFPEN until December 2022. She has been working part-time on the So-Sponge project since 2020 and is now working full-time.
Melaz Tayakout, CSO of So-Sponge and the project's originator, is an associate professor in Process Engineering at the University Claude Bernard Lyon 1, affiliated with the Laboratory of Automatic Control, Process Engineering, and Pharmaceutical Engineering (LAGEPP) within the DYCOP team (Process Dynamics, Control, and Observability). Through a Scientific Contest contract, she joined the project on a part-time basis.