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Elevator Pitch: Aquafortus

As part of our Elevator Pitch series in partnership with Flick, we gave Daryl Briggs a little longer than an elevator ride to pitch Aquafortus, which removes water from waste.

Top image: Aquafortus CEO Daryl Briggs.

The world is a very wasteful place.

This really isn’t news to anyone – nor is the fact that there are a dizzying number of companies and organisations, from startups to mega-corporations, trying to do something about it.

Aquafortus Technologies is one of those organisations. A New Zealand-based technology company founded in 2014, it has developed and patented minimal energy water recovery technologies that can remove water from waste.

“More than 300 billion tonnes of wastewater are generated globally every year,” says Daryl Briggs, CEO of Aquafortus. “This is equivalent to the size of Lake Erie or 132 million Olympic swimming pools. These industrial wastewaters typically cost $20 to $900 per tonne to treat, where energy is the major component of costs.

“Aquafortus specialises in taking wastewater with high levels of salinity and through its patented zero liquid discharge (ZLD) technology separating the brines into dry mineral salts and clean water. Reducing the cost of water extraction and making resource recovery economical.”

Like many successful startups, Aquafortus started in a garage. “Our major breakthrough was the discovery of an oil that had an incredible affinity for water and a real dislike of salt,” says Briggs. “We knew we had something special when we first saw salt fall out of seawater like snowflakes.  Years and plenty of effort later we now have a full-blown industrial process for the crystallization of salt and recovery of clean water from any wastewater source.

“Aquafortus has developed a unique and proprietary minimal energy technology that dramatically reduces the energy consumed in the process of freshwater extraction from liquids by 90 percent, this can save users up to 60 percent in operational costs.

“The Aquafortus technology distinguishes itself further from competing high recovery technologies in that the regeneration step of the process is extremely fast, almost instantaneous, being a thousand times faster than the closest competing technology. This means no downtime for plants as the absorbent is always available to drive water separation. This combined with minimal energy consumption, equates to massive savings in operational costs for users.”

Ok, so we’re talking about making wastewater usable and less, well, wasteful. It’s a noble mission – but one that hasn’t been without its hairy moments. “The hardest moment was when we deployed our first ZLD pilot plant,” Briggs says. “After months of hard slog the team had finally built, commissioned and deployed our very first ZLD pilot plant at a client site and we were putting it through its paces. This was a major milestone for a fledgeling company and success brought the promise of further funding. However, during the first few days of testing one of the columns developed a crack (it was made of Pyrex glass) and the whole pilot plant had to be shut down. It was early January and there was no hope of getting a replacement before March.  After so much effort and far from home, it was a devastating moment for the team. It also resulted in some prospective investors walking away.

“However, the team rallied and within a few weeks we had replaced the glass column with a brand new, locally fabricated steel one and it was all go again. This rebuilt unit was instrumental in landing our first licensee just a few months later!”

Hiccups aside, there’s some exciting stuff happening now. Aquafortus has recently signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Texas-based PetroH20 Recovery. The agreement, valued at US$40 million for the first three years and more than US$25 million annually beyond those three years, will see Aquafortus’ technology used in the US oil and gas market.

It’s an exciting opportunity for the company to break into the U.S. market, says Briggs. “Every day US oil and gas wells produce more than 58 million barrels of salty water, and these numbers are growing. Our technology ensures the maximum recovery of clean, surface discharge quality water at less than half the cost of current solutions. This is an alternative that did not exist in the US oil and gas industry until our agreement with PetroH20.”

Aquafortus’ technology isn’t limited to the oil and gas industry, either, as globally 900 million tonnes of wastewater is produced every day, in particular chemical refineries, dairy plants and coal-fired power stations all generate significant volumes that require treatment. “In addition to this, international ZLD regulations are creating very substantial opportunities as governments get serious about water pollution and its by-products, compelling industries that produce high salinity wastewater to install ZLD systems,” says Briggs. “As the market is projected to grow from an estimated US$4.67 billion in 2016 to US$6.88 billion in 2021, we are very confident about our future.”

Aquafortus received its start through the Callaghan Technology Incubation Scheme – something which Callaghan start-up manager Elena Higgison is thrilled about. “Activating innovation and accelerating commercialisation for a better New Zealand is why we exist,” she explains. “We’re proud to support Kiwi businesses that compete on the world stage, particularly with technology that has a multitude of applications once proven at scale. These products can be positively disruptive in terms of performance, reduction in process costs and environmental impacts.”

Also, Aquafortus is currently seeking funds from New Zealand investors prior to an international raise. “Aquafortus is currently seeking funding to bridge the gap before the PetroH2O plants are fully operational in 2019,” says Briggs. “Series A funding of $2 million will ensure we can pursue further licensing agreements and can execute our commitments to PetroH2O. The company expects to be profitable by 2020.”

And let’s not forget making the world a less wasteful place.

  • If you think you've got an interesting business and you're keen to talk about it awkwardly in an elevator, get in touch with us here.

 

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