Founder Story VitalFluid | Thunderstorm-technique for sustainable crop growth

StartLife has a large network of startups. These startups have inspiring founders who are willing to share their tips & tricks with other entrepreneurs. This Founder Story is about VitalFluid, one of the few companies in the world who brought plasma activated water (PAW) to market.

When the idea was born, VitalFluid had a long way to go. StartLife helped them to find the right market segment. Now, VitalFluid’s product seems to be a possible solution the sustainable production of crops.

Paul Leenders, one of VitalFluid’s founders, began his career in the aerospace industry. He was responsible for air treatment filters upon the International Space Station. In 2006, Paul performed a feasibility study, commissioned by TNO Space/ESA, on the decontamination and sterilization of air. One of the promising techniques that arose from this study was the “plasma activation technique”. Plasma activated air is produced by treating the air by electrical current. This yields oxygen and nitrogen with unique disinfecting properties. Back then Paul had no idea about other uses for this technique.

Paul Leenders Polo van Ooij startlife startup vitalfluid
Paul Leenders (left) and Polo van Ooij (right), founders of VitalFluid, with their test system for plasma activated water.

In 2009, Paul launched a new project on plasma activated air. In collaboration with TNO, Radboud University Nijmegen, Filtex Air Filtration and Bactimm, they had to develop an alternative for alcohol-based hand sanitizers. For the development of a device based on plasma activated air, they received 1,2 million Euro PIDON subsidy. The project team found out that the technique itself was safe. Unfortunately, due to the risk of inhaling gasses, developing a safe disinfection device wasn’t possible.

A breakthrough came in 2011, when Paul lead a project with students from Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and the University of Technology in Eindhoven (TU/e). In Eindhoven he met Polo van Ooij, a TU/e electrical engineer who later became a cofounder of Vital Fluid. The WUR students performed some small experiments with PAW produced at TU/e. They performed a simple study whereby roses that were put into normal water and into PAW. The results were stunning; the PAW kept the roses fresher for 2 to 3 days longer. That was the moment when Polo and Paul realized that this technology would be of value to the agricultural sector.

In 2014, Paul and Polo were finally able to test PAW technology on a larger scale in a joint subsidized EFRO project in collaboration with WUR, TU/e, Radboud University Nijmegen, FloraHolland, Alewijnse, Bactimm and Filtex. The results were, again, very promising and in July 2014 VitalFluid was officially established. A tip Paul has for other startups is to focus on one specific market, stick to your business plan and never give up. “StartLife offered great support”, Paul says, “our coach Linze was an excellent coach. He helped us to define the right market“. Linze Rijswijk, business coach at StartLife: “VitalFluid has developed a frontier technology that is applicable in many sectors. It is a disruptive technology with a positive impact on the environment”.

Paul Leenders: “Focus on one specific market, stick to your business plan and never give up”

Now VitalFluid is one of the few companies in the world offering solutions and equipment using PAW. In a specialized plasma reactor, ambient air is split into reactive oxygen and reactive nitrogen by an electrical current. These elements can be easily dissolved in water, creating the unique properties of plasma activated water. At the moment, the focus is on the treatment of seeds for the agricultural sector. Several companies have already shown interest. In the future, many pre- and post-harvest applications, like fertilizers, sustainable crop growth and hygiene, will also be available. And off course you can also wash your hands with VitalFluid!

Also look at VitalFluid the Dutch tv-program “De Kennis van Nu