KPI stages startup competition to attract investors

Of the eight winners of the startup projects competition staged by the Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute (KPI) during the International Ecology and Peace Forum on May 15-16, two presented innovative techniques for demining territories. As the saying goes, judge startups by their relevance to modern life.

Among these innovations, the Sokrat engineering development is an adaptation of technology originally designed for mineral exploration. Scanning is performed by a hardware and software device based on pulsed electromagnetic sensing (PEMS). The collected data are processed using artificial intelligence. The authors of the engineering development assure that Sokrat significantly outperforms comparable techniques in speed and accuracy, making it unique in Ukraine and worldwide.

Sokrat: sophisticated mine detector

The device is fixed to a drone that flies at various altitudes ranging from five to 100 meters. This capability of flying at high altitudes is very important in demining, as other methods require drones fly closer to the ground for optimal performance. Detected explosive objects are pinpointed on the map, which is then utilized by customers – deminers or sappers.

At present, four government departments are responsible for demining in Ukraine: the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the National Guard, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Emergency Service (the only department engaged in humanitarian demining). In addition, 38 private organizations, including the Ukrainian Deminers Association, Demining Solutions, and Halo Trust, specialize in humanitarian demining.

Note: According to the Law of Ukraine “On Mine Action in Ukraine”, demining (humanitarian demining) involves a package of measures taken by mine action operators to avert dangers associated with explosives. These measures include non-technical and technical surveys of territories, mapping, detection, neutralization and/or destruction of explosive objects, marking, post-mining documentation, providing information on mine action to communities, and handing over cleared territories to them.

In general, there are three types of demining: operational, military and humanitarian. Operational demining is conducted in case of emergency by officers from the State Emergency Service, police sappers, and specialists from the State Special Transport Service (SSTS). Military demining is performed by the Armed Forces.

Conventional deminers usually use visual inspection and scanning with mine detectors. They use mechanical demining equipment and minesweepers in open areas. However, minesweepers are capable of withstanding no more than four anti-tank mine explosions. Therefore, they need to be replaced, which is costly and time-consuming. Other drawbacks of the existing techniques include shallow mine detection, low detection rates (minesweepers miss up to 10% of mines), and overall sluggishness.

“There are overly optimistic reports in the press about ‘novel’ techniques for identifying explosive objects, yet no remote devices exist that can accurately detect a large number of explosive objects,” said Serhii Kuznetsov, director of the GeoResurs research center for problems of subsoil use at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, while presenting Sokrat.

The developers of this technique aim to achieve an accuracy of up to 98% in identifying mines or other ammunition. To this end, additional testing will be conducted in actual diverse situations to self-train the neural network, record measurements, and fine-tune the device.

As was mentioned above, this and other startups were presented at the International Ecology and Peace Forum. This event was organized by the Ukrainian Peace Council, the All-Ukrainian Innovation Ecosystem Sikorsky Challenge Ukraine, and the International NGO Council on Environmental Safety, among others, at KPI. An essential condition for a successful presentation (pitch) is to showcase a startup to investors to the best advantage. Sokrat already has several pieces of formal evidence in its favor.

The PEMS technology is protected by a patent and know-how, supported by scientific publications, successful tests, and technology readiness level (TRL) 3.

Note – The following definitions apply to TRLs:
TRL 1 – basic principles observed
TRL 2 – technology concept formulated
TRL 3 – experimental proof of concept
TRL 4 – technology validated in lab
TRL 5 – technology validated in relevant environment (industrially relevant environment in the case of key enabling technologies)
TRL 6 – technology demonstrated in relevant environment (industrially relevant environment in the case of key enabling technologies)
TRL 7 – system prototype demonstration in operational environment
TRL 8 – system complete and qualified
TRL 9 – actual system proven in operational environment (competitive manufacturing in the case of key enabling technologies; or in space)

A strong pitch also contains calculations of the required investments. As for Sokrat, these are as follows: $300,000 to conduct field tests; $300,000 to improve the device and software, as well as air vehicles for the equipment; $400,000 to set up a separate demining operator and receive a license. These stages can be gone through within a year.

In the course of the presentation, it is also crucial to convince prospective investors that there is a demand for this engineering development. The potential buyers of Sokrat’s services can include the said demining operators, communities, the government of Ukraine, agricultural holding companies, farms, agricultural machinery manufacturers, and insurance and leasing companies. Essentially, these customers are either businesses or the government and bodies of local self-government.

Impressive figures highlight Sokrat’s potential market and advantages. The current cost of demining ranges from $4 to $12 per square meter. It is necessary to clear 500,000 square kilometers of farmlands alone, worth at least $200 billion. If the cost of scanning, as a component of demining, is estimated at $1 per square meter, the market capacity for scanning will amount to $50 billion.

The developers stated that only 10 drones equipped with their devices would be needed to map the locations of land mines in Ukraine.

The task is not easy. Sokrat’s capability of identifying different types of explosive devices, now numbering about 2,680, should be developed.


Rescue from mine danger is the goal of another winning team. MineGuard is a set of devices for remote mine detection with an accuracy of 90%, which can be mounted on a drone. According to the authors of the engineering development, on the average it is three times cheaper than its counterparts. The MineGuard team gave more reasons for the importance and boon of demining to regional security.

“At the current pace, it will take about 20 years to completely clear contaminated territories in Ukraine. The estimated cost of demining operations in Ukraine exceeds $600 billion. The estimated cost of clearing the top 10 most heavily mined countries is more than $4.1 trillion,” their presentation states.

They propose mounting an RGB camera, a thermal imager, and a metal detector on the drone (RGB is short for Red, Green, Blue, an additive color model used in digital devices and light-based media to create a gamut of colors from just red, green, and blue. It is widely used in equipment that produces images by transmitting light). The collected data are processed using computer vision technology and a neural network.

The authors predict that their engineering development will be five times cheaper than rival counterparts that can identify mines with the same accuracy.

Making the air cleaner

Carbon graphite electrodes are used in the aluminum, chemical, steelmaking and other industries. These electrodes are essential in the production of ferroalloys, non-ferrous metals, artificial abrasives, calcium carbide, phosphorus, chlorine, caustic soda, and other materials. The production of such electrodes entails the discharge of noxious gases in the air, particularly carbon monoxide, known as the Invisible Killer.

The Catalytic Eco-Reactor is designed to decrease these discharges. The authors of this engineering development propose using the ferrite catalysts, which can be obtained from the liquid waste of metallurgical and electroplating industries. Zeolite from the Sokyrnytsia deposit in Ukraine’s Transcarpathian region is treated with a mixture of solutions of ferrous, manganese, copper, and chromium salts in various combinations and ratios. This process forms a ferrite sludge on zeolite’s surface when an alkaline reagent is added. The modified zeolite is then separated from the aqueous phase and dried for loading into a metal porous reactor, where carbon monoxide is neutralized.

The economic benefits of Catalytic Eco-Reactor lie in the replacement of scarce catalysts containing precious metals (platinum, palladium, samarium) with cheaper, yet equally active alternatives.

The startup’s developers have already taken out a patent for their invention, titled “Granular Catalytic Material for Oxidation of Carbon Monoxide Present in Exhaust Gases from Ring Kilns Used in Electrode Manufacturing, and a Method for its Production.”

‘Alligator’ eats up garbage and generates heat

The authors of the Alligator engineering development claim that their boiler can run on any solid fuel, including waste materials such as rubber (e.g., old tires), plastic, leather, and medical waste. At the same time, the emissions are within normal limits, and medical waste is disinfected using high temperature steam.

The compact design of the boiler plant enables its installation near the sources of waste generation.

The boiler operates on the principle of a reverse process gas generator, where the thermal decomposition of solid fuel is carried out within its reactor in the absence of oxygen, producing combustible gas. This gas then enters the burner, where it mixes with air in an amount sufficient for its complete combustion. After the combustion chamber, the hot gases pass through a heat exchanger and are cooled. Boiler’s efficiency accounts for 95%.

According to the creators of Alligator, several of their plants are already operating successfully, though they aim to scale up production. The developers complained about the imperfection of the legislation, which requires inspectors to focus on permits and licenses rather than on the actual air cleanliness at the plant’s location. The inventors think permits and licenses cost a lot of money and are killing small and medium-sized businesses.

It is worth noting too that several other startups were devoted to waste recycling. Though they are all very interesting, their successful implementation requires further improvement in the legal framework, specifically the adoption of the law on packaging, which will finally enforce the extended producer responsibility for packaging. Without this, the disposal of municipal solid waste in landfills will remain the cheapest and most common waste management method. It is wholly unacceptable in terms of environmental protection.

Purifying water from oil

The startup idea of KPI student Andrii Mavrin is simple but efficient. He proposes to improve the technique for purifying water from petroleum products. One of the mechanical methods for collecting oil that has spilled into water reservoirs is the use of porous belts. Andrii suggests stretching these belts over a drum of a purifying device not in the usual way, but in the form of a Möbius strip. Thus, the effective surface actually doubles. This is evidenced by experimental data. The author has already taken out a patent for the prototype of his water purifier.

Radiation? Let robots work

Scientists at the O.M. Beketov National University of Urban Economy in Kharkiv are evolving methods to extend the service life of robotic systems used in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone. The system being developed by the Kharkiv scientists is supposed to monitor the conditions in which the robotic systems operate and the condition of the systems themselves. If necessary, it should promptly respond to changes in the situation (e.g., levels of radioactivity) and timely carry out preventive maintenance, repairs, and changes in the operating modes of robotic systems. This monitoring system is also called a “digital twin”.

A complex for monitoring the reliability of robots will cost about 4,500 euros, and if introduced, it can yield an economic effect to the tune of 450,000 euros over five years.

More than two million hryvnias have already been spent on this engineering development. Additional five million are needed to complete research, achieve accepted national standards, obtain certificates and international patents, conduct marketing activities, and enter the international market.

Nuclear waste to be incorporated into glassceramics

Other researchers from O.M. Beketov National University of Urban Economy in Kharkiv have proposed an original technique for immobilizing nuclear waste. At present, this waste is incorporated into glass or ceramics before burial or long-term storage. However, the end product is quite unreliable due to its fragility, which is especially challenging during emergencies, military conflicts, and natural disasters.

To meet the challenge, the certified laboratory “Technologies and Design of Glass and Ceramics” and the Laboratory Center for Environmental and Energy Safety of Cities at O.M. Beketov National University of Urban Economy in Kharkiv developed innovative high-strength glassceramics, or sitalls, with high self-restoring power for radioactive waste immobilization. These glassceramics provide a solution for the reliable long-term storage of radioactive waste in high-strength solid matrices that are resistant to environmental factors (in accordance with IAEA requirements), technogenic factors and the consequences of armed aggression.

Note: Sitalls are crystalline glassceramics consisting of one or more crystalline phases evenly separated into a glassy phase. They occupy an intermediate position between base glass and conventional ceramics. Sitalls contain a large number of small crystals interconnected by an intercrystalline layer.

This engineering development has several advantages: the ability to control the composition and structure; use of a wide range of glass-forming systems and industrial wastes (rocks, sludge, slag, etc.); the availability of natural counterparts that provide a theoretical basis for the long-term characteristics of the material; a unique ability to self-restore in the event of exposure to physical, chemical and biological factors; resistance to fire and shock waves; durability geared to minimize the release of radioactive and chemical components; radioresistance; chemical flexibility, allowing it to be used for various radioactive and chemical components of waste.

There is a ready market for this startup, even if only local nuclear power plants are taken into account. Ukraine ranks second in Europe and fourth in the world by volume of radioactive waste, with 3.5 million cubic meters. This country generates 0.15-0.35 cubic meters of liquid radioactive waste and 0.1-0.3 cubic meters of solid radioactive waste per megawatt of energy produced annually by its nuclear power plants.

As far as investment indicators are concerned, expenditure is estimated at 150 million hryvnias, production costs at 10,000 hryvnias per ton, and production capacities at 240 tons a day.

The authors have already obtained two patents for their inventions, and an expert report on the radioresistance of the innovative glassceramics and their serviceability for radioactive waste immobilization.

Magnet to purify wastewater

The startup entitled “Magnetic Separation of Wastewater” is attractive because its idea can be implemented in almost any industry – be it a butter and fat factory, ceramic production, or metallurgy.

The technique of magnetic separation is based on two properties of an iron-containing coagulant with finely dispersed components used in wastewater treatment: the high coagulation capacity of the compound (coagulant) and the magnetism of the finely dispersed components of the compound.

During magnetic separation, the resulting precipitate acquires pronounced magnetic properties. Initially, a large amount of “foreign matter” present in the wastewater to be treated is fixed on each finely dispersed particle of the compound (reagent). Magnetization then accelerates the processes of separation of the dispersion phase, which has already acquired magnetic properties at the previous stage, and the dispersion medium (“clear” water). Over time, as the sediment continues to “push water out” (even while in the water medium) under the influence of magnetic forces acquired after magnetization, the processes reach completion.

How does the process work? Under the influence of a powerful permanent magnetic field, the mass of “dirt” concentrated around “crystallization points” is quickly separated, and sediment is removed from a stream of wastewater. Most importantly, the sludge forms directly in the pipes of the unit (due to the appropriate hardware design of the technology), obviating a need for additional containers (settling tanks).

The sludge’s moisture content is reduced to 50-60% without the use of expensive and energy-consuming centrifuges, filter presses, or drying methods. Simultaneously, both the treated water and the compacted sludge are completely disinfected and deodorized through the use of special flocculants.

Depending on the origin of wastewater (metallurgy, domestic wastewater, food industry, agriculture, etc.), the properties of the separated sludge vary. Coagulated compacted sludge containing a large amount of organic matter is pelletized and sent to gasification equipment for the production of synthesis gas, methane, heat, electricity, or for the production of granular soil mixtures, organic fertilizers, and dietary supplements. If the wastewater comes from metallurgical plants, the sludge can be returned to the main production cycle.

The most interesting startups of runners-up

Although some startups did not win awards, they generated keen interest among the audience. For example, one startup enables people to recycle textile waste into motanky rag dolls. Another startup is a smartphone app that helps monitor the condition of food in the fridge and pantry, preventing spoilage by encouraging consumption before the expiration date or passing food to neighbors, friends or relatives.

A presentation on the successful management of demolition waste also attracted considerable attention. As it turned out during networking on the sidelines of the Forum, the project focuses on recycling already sorted waste into secondary gravel or sand. However, primary sorting of hazardous materials (asbestos, mercury-containing devices, oil from electric transformers, etc.), remains a dangerous process with uncertain funding and protection for the workers involved.

With the Svit popular science newspaper