Friday, February 5, 2016

C&EN: Medicinal chemist selling rotovap chilling device

Credit: C&EN/George Adjabeng
Also in this week's C&EN, a really great little story about a chemist who is selling a rotovap
condenser chiller (story by Marc Reisch, registration required):
[George] Adjabeng’s experience with rotovaps started at Ghana’s University of Cape Coast. After graduating in 2001, he received an M.S. degree in organic chemistry from Ontario’s Brock University and went to work for Roche in California. From 2004 to 2011, he worked for GlaxoSmithKline in North Carolina where he was a discoverer of Tafinlar, a drug that treats advanced melanoma. 
“I used rotovaps while I was in school and at work,” Adjabeng says. At times, he says, “I’d spend all day going back and forth getting dry ice to recharge the rotovap condenser.” He left GSK to get a business degree because, he says, “I didn’t want to be in the lab for the rest of my career.” During his studies, he was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. “I met people who had started up university-research-based spin-outs,” he says. 
Seeking a technology of his own, Adjabeng recalled his experience in the lab and conceived of the EcoChyll. He also sought out people familiar with refrigeration technology and worked with the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University to develop the prototype he is now testing with potential users. Adjabeng and his friend initially funded development of the EcoChyll out of their own pockets. More recently, an angel investor kicked in $100,000. 
Planning to test the EcoChyll in his lab is University of California, Berkeley, chemistry professor Richmond Sarpong. Given California’s water shortage, Sarpong notes, tap water cooling is rarely used. “But we use a lot of dry ice. It’s expensive and not the most sustainable thing,” he says.
The article goes on to say that he plans to charge somewhere in the $9,000-$12,000 range, which is kinda pricey, but hey! I'm not an entrepreneur and George Adjabeng is. Best wishes to him.

(I presume the problem is this: Mr. Adjabeng's product appears to be aimed at the small chemical business and academic market. It would be interesting to know how many chemistry professors care about dry ice consumable usage. (I certainly know that small chemical business do, but how many of those are there?) How many new rotovaps does Buchi sell in a year in the United States, and beyond? How many of those are run by water-based condensers, as opposed to dry ice, or antifreeze-based recirculating chillers?) 


  1. I work at a small company that has a few rotovaps. Our only source of dry ice is a nearby grocery store so we use circulating baths for our condensers. The big pain with those is the 30 min cooling time from ambient to below zero C. The EcoChyll is a great solution since it cool in under a minute. However, I did balk at the price. We usually buy used or reconditioned circulating baths in the $1k to $2k range, so this unit would be prohibitively expensive for us. If it sold for under $5k, we could be perhaps convinced to buy them.

  2. That is really pricey! My advice to him is don't quit your day job.

  3. Yeah at my company we have a rotovap (that we don't use that much) for which we've got a $2000, 800W recirculating chiller that uses a propylene glycol / water coolant mixture. It takes some time to cool down, but it's nice in that it can eventually get to under 0 degC.

    This EcoChyll certainly looks useful because of how quickly it chills down and how low a temperature it can go. It is pricey though!

  4. That is not novel at all. In our labs (medium sized r&d site of a large corporation) every rotovap is cooled with a chiller, we also have a closed circuit of cooling water for use in fumehoods, so pretty much no tap water is wasted.

  5. Duh it's not novel... but is it better than the current chiller alternatives?

  6. I thought this was a pretty exciting option until I saw the possible price. You can get a good water/glycol chiller in the 2-3K range. We've got one from IKA that can get to -20C pretty quickly and can hold it all day. At that price you'd probably be better off buying one of those immersion chillers from FTS. They're not cheap (nor particularly reliable) but certainly cheaper than the number this article is talking about.

  7. In our center the dry ice is "free" - it is paid with common funds and I have never seen the total cost or my share. If I buy one of these I will pay (indirectly) almost the same amount for dry ice. If we decide to switch all the rotovaps to this model, we will still buy dry ice, since it is used for other purposes.

  8. Thank you Chemjobber for blogging on this article. And thank you all for the comments. These are valuable feedbacks. If I may add...replacing dry is just one example of the many advantages the machine offers. Other advantages include:
    1. Eco-friendly
    2. Safe and easy to use - more convenient
    3. Faster evaporation
    4. Increases productivity
    5. Eliminates downtime (does not depend on dry ice availability)
    6. No associated operational costs
    7. “Tankless” technology (no water/antifreeze to circulate)
    8. Low cost of lifetime ownership
    9. Small footprint
    10. Variable cooling temperature (you cannot do that with dry ice; dry ice is stupid)
    11. Pays for itself


  9. Cold fingers are already available that can cool acetone to -78, the energy consumption will be high for any such type of cooler, including yours, and the footprint on the bench is huge.

    I once fabricated a shaker,heater,evaporator for vials and MTP's that blew away anything that VWR and fischer made, it could put a vortex in a perfume vial and could mix in a microtiter plate well. The market for this kind of stuff is just too small to make a lot of money. Add to that the fact that organic chemistry work is dead in North America and the Chinese and Indians are never going to spend such money on equipment for their labs.

    1. when I was in graduate school someone said that the best inventions have all been done. I laughed...a few years later I was on the team that invented the advanced melanoma treatment drug Tafinlar (Dabrafenib). Our large scale evaporator system, EcoChyll X7 actually uses up to 80% less energy than the traditional large-scale rotovap. How did we do it? You'll ask. It's innovation in areas where there seems to be no room for innovative solutions. Our goal isn't to make condensers to replace dry ice; but rather to revolutionize the rotovap instrument. If you see our all-in-one instrument it will change the way you see rotovaps...

    2. "Add to that the fact that organic chemistry work is dead in North America and the Chinese and Indians are never going to spend such money on equipment for their labs."

      Add to the fact that there is a staggering amount of ignorance prevailing in what you'd expect to be highly educated people.

  10. yes you can vary the temperature with dry ice, there is a nice little chart out there that shows you all the temps you can get with different solvents and dry ice as well as liquid N2.

    You have to keep at it, I've spent thousands and thousands of dollars of my own money on trying to develop and market products and ideas, so far I'm still a working schmuck, but hey other people spend as much money on boats, cars, hookers and blow so who's to say...

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  11. Thank you, we're making progress -- we're changing the way you see rotovaps.