The Wolffs of UH: Sustainable Innovation

The University of Houston has made enormous strides in sustainability. We have been recognized as one of the greenest colleges by the Princeton Review, created one of the first sloped green roofs in all of Houston and are now in the process of receiving the highest rating in all of Texas on the STARS report, which tracks campus sustainability for hundreds of colleges across the country.

Recycling and composting at home is important, but the push our society needs to implement sustainability on a larger scale must come from places that have the power to create opportunities as our resources continue to drop in abundance. The UH Division of Research is a key player, providing the resources needed for UH professors and graduate students to research and develop new solutions for our planet’s most pressing issues.

A strategic partnership between the Division of Research and the nationally recognized Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship allows UH researchers’ latest technologies to be developed into viable business startups spearheaded by teams of UH Wolff business students. With additional support from Valenti communication students who develop their public relations plans, many of these startups have the resources they need to become front-runners in sustainable innovation.

One such startup is well on its way to addressing one important aspect of sustainability: atmospheric pollution caused by excess amounts of greenhouses gases. Factory exhaust, agricultural activities and the burning of fossil fuels are the culprits we typically associate with air pollution. It causes 3 million deaths each year—more than HIV, malaria and flu fatalities combined.

If you’ve had surgery before, you’re probably familiar with a mask being placed over your face as you slowly lose consciousness. But did you know that the breaths you take during a surgical procedure are contributing to the equivalent of what 1 million passenger cars emit in greenhouse gases annually on a global scale? Resthetics logo

Resthetics is a gas reclamation startup that uses an organic framework to facilitate the recycling of anesthetic gas. Developed by Ognjen S. Miljanic, Resthetics’ product, Anecycle, acts as a highly porous, powder-like sponge that adsorbs the specific molecular compounds found in fluorinated anesthetics. This means that when a patient exhales anesthesia during surgery, it can be temporarily stored in the powder-like sponge and then retrieved in a vacuum process, allowing the anesthesia to be purified and then safely re-administered to other patients.

Let me break it down a little bit more: instead of allowing the exhaled anesthesia to go back into the atmosphere, this invention, which can capture a surface area of half a football field in a single gram, traps it for as long as necessary until it can be sucked out, filtered and reused. If just a single gram of Anecycle can do this, imagine how much anesthesia can be captured if Anecycle is implemented on a larger scale.

The gas recycling start-up company earned a $1,500 prize in a recent business plan competition and aims to become the norm in operating rooms according to Tobi Adams, Resthetics co-founder. Anecycle not only reduces environmental pollution but also preserves resources by lessening the need to manufacture new anesthesia, reducing by-product packaging waste and lowering hospital costs.

Laws such as the Clean Air Act address the atmospheric pollution caused by the energy and refinery sectors, but how much discussion is there of excess amounts of greenhouse gases caused by the healthcare sector? In a city that is home to the largest medical center in the world, Resthetics has the power to create awareness of an unexplored greenhouse gas and be the catalyst for a new wave of sustainability in the healthcare industry.

-Gabriela Contreras

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