Swedish Bioeconomy Heros

Company profile

We at Cellfion make todays energy available tomorrow!

Founded: 2021

Number of employees: 11 full-time by Q3 2023

Stage: Prototype

Funding raised: investment of €1.4M and  SEK 6M in public funding

Revenue (2022): pre revenue



Who are you and why did you found Cellfion?

Hi, I am Liam Hardey co-founder and acting CEO of Cellfion. Cellfion is based on a long history of research and development between LiU, KTH, Cellulose Research Center and others and initially I was evaluating their commercial potential when I was employed at LEAD, the business incubator of Linköping University.

We then started to work together exploring the market need for biobased membranes which was already huge. Interestingly, we found that there was an exponential growth within fuel cells, electrolysis and redox flow batteries. 

What is Cellfion doing?

At Cellfion, we are developing bio-based ion exchange membranes which are an integral part of electrochemical devices such as flow batteries and fuel cells. Today’s membranes are made from PFAS but these will be banned within the EU starting in 2025.

What is the problem with PFAS-based membranes that they need to be banned?

PFAS is a class of chemicals that are so stable that they are categorised as “forever chemicals”. This means that already today we find such materials literally everywhere from our oceans and forests to animals and humans and these materials will accumulate as long as we continue to produce them. This is associated not only with environmental issues but also with health risks for the human population.

Therefore, member states of the EU have launched an initiative to ban such materials already from 2025. Moreover, major providers of PFAS materials like Solvay have announced that they will stop producing them.

However, today the fuel cell industry is highly dependent on PFAS membranes and a lack of alternatives puts the accelerated electrification of many sectors at risk.

And what is your solution to this problem?

Our ion exchange membranes serve as sustainable replacement to PFAS-based membranes. They are produced from nano cellulose which is already today generated at large quantities by the pulp and paper industry allowing us to produce millions of square meters of membranes. Our key innovation is the modification of cellulose in different ways and we have a really deep understanding of such processes.

An abundant feedstock is a good starting point. What is the biggest technological challenge and how far have you come in scaling-up of your process?

The major challenge for most cellulose-based industries is de-watering the raw material. Cellulose binds a lot of water quite tightly and this water needs to be removed since it is incompatible with downstream applications. However, since this is such a common problem, there also solutions being developed.

We have demonstrated the feasibility of our technology at lab scale meaning 20 cm2 large membranes. Recently, we increased our capacity to produce 80×40 cm membranes which is the standard size for all industrial pilots and we are planning a pilot facility to be able to produce 2 m long membranes.

What is your best guess of how long it will take until I can buy a product that is based on Cellfions technology?

This is very product specific and it is important to note that our target market has rather long development cycles, meaning that our potential customers are scouting now for new materials for their products to be launched in 2030.

However, we are trying to shorten our time to market by launching first products with a relatively short implementation time and a bit later we will target larger volume applications which often need longer development cycles.

That sounds like a challenging timeline for any start-up seeking market verification. Why does it take so long to get these products on the market?

The main reason is that redox-flow batteries which are one of our initial target applications have to be long-lasting, with a product lifetime ranging from a few years up to 20 years. This means that testing and verification phases are also much longer compared to products with a shorter lifecycle. Of course, you can run accelerated testing but we have seen that these test results often do not correlate well with tests conducted under real operational conditions.

Therefore, it is highly important for us to build strong, long-lasting partnerships with customers that can support and scale with us.

Especially nowadays access to risk capital is a concern for many start-ups. Do you think funding is going to be a problem for Cellfion?

Securing funding for building production is not easy but it is particularly difficult in the EU. If you look at US and Asia, round sizes and valuations are much bigger which means you have more funding available to build something impactful.

On top of that, US has now put legislation in place that makes it very attractive for manufacturing companies to move there and in my opinion the EU really needs to create a competitive offer to keep deep tech companies within Europe.

A start-up journey can be quite a roller coaster ride. What has been the best experience you had at Cellfion so far?

We had many great moments as well as a lot of these small wins that keep you motivated throughout the journey. But my personal highlight is that I can work with the most incredible team one can imagine. It is overlooked by many companies that the actual value of a business lies not primarily in its technology but in the people you work with.

Cellfions winning team accelerates societies electrification by developing sustainable membranes for applications such as fuel cells

Very true! Like any other start-up you must have encountered many challenging situations as well. Did you also had some kind of near death experience at Cellfion?

Yes! The first time ever we sent a sample to a customer. As soon as we started Cellfion, we sent material to a customer, they started to test our membrane and it literally stopped working after 5 min instead of running for hours or days. Getting these results from one of the first customer trials was a bit of a shock. Later, it turned out that our membrane was just not compatible with their system.

So we learned from this experience that we really have to understand our customers technology in depth. In hindsight I am actually happy that this happened early on so that we could make sure such a scenario never happens again.

Could you continue to work with this customer?

Yes, we still have an on-going collaboration with them, most likely because we were very honest in the beginning by sharing that we don’t know if our technologies are compatible but that we can try to make it work.

When looking at Cellfion, you started just in 2021 so in the middle of the pandemic and you have recently secured a decent seed round in a very difficult investment climate. Can you give us some insights into why you are so successful?

There are a lot of factors you can’t control. However, a few years ago I saw a TED talk where a professor had looked into success factors of early-stage companies. His research came to the conclusion that the number one factor determining if a start-up will succeed or fail is timing to market. This means that if you have a solution for an urgent need you are much more likely to build a successful company.

In 2021, I looked into where all the risk capital is going and climate technologies were the most heavily subsidized and invested technologies in the world.

Further, the coming legislation plays an important role since risk capital tends to follow the policy makers and the likely ban on PFAS membranes will greatly accelerate the commercialiazation our technology.

Cellfion’s success can be attributed to its response to the pressing demand for innovative, environmentally friendly membranes within the rapidly expanding energy market.

Thanks a lot Liam for sharing your insights! We are looking forward to follow your journey.