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Founder Profile: Zac Young, Co-Founder–H2nanO

Hailing from the far north that is Canada, H2nanO is using nanotechnology to help treat wastewater in a novel way. By using 

Like most of our founders, Zac has a passion Zac’ engineering background is a large driver for a lot of theis able to bring both an engineering and 

Tell us a little about yourself and what led you to H2nanO.

I’m one of four co-founders of H2nanO, all of us from the Frank Gu Lab at the University of Waterloo in Canada (ironically, right between three of the Great Lakes). We destroy hard-to-degrade organics, such as petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals, that persist at the end of conventional industrial wastewater treatment.

My role is to take the innovative water treatment tools developed by our team, and build the business to bring them to the field. I am fascinated by solving big, infrastructural challenges with nanotechnology; a bug I caught at two previous nanotech start-up gigs.

Did this “bug” help plant the seeds for H2nanO?

The Canadian Oil Sands is a major part of our economy, and we wanted to use nanotechnology to help accelerate their water remediation and reduce impacts. We realized our expertise in targeted drug delivery could be used to deliver and recover nanomaterials for water treatment.

The key was passive treatment: how can make the process as close to zero input as possible?

Fast forward a few years of iteration, and we have created a reusable, chemical-free process that deploys buoyant and magnetic nanomaterials to destroy contaminants using light, including direct sunlight.

What’s the value you provide for your customer?

We destroy toxic or undesirable organics without the use of expensive chemicals and with less energy. This helps customers manage environmental liabilities and eliminate sewerage charges or fines, reducing their operating costs (and headaches).

There are a lot of water contamination treatment platforms, what makes H2nanO different?

The standard approach to water treatment is ‘top-down’: design the process around a ‘blackbox’ device or material.

At H2nanO, we’ve designed ‘bottom-up’: we created new materials and processes that specifically leverage each-other’s strengths.

Nanomaterials have a massive treatment power — one sugar cube of nanoparticles has more surface area of a football field — but they are difficult to use safely and efficiently due to their size (1 nanometre = 1 billionth of a metre).

Unlike other oxidation tools, our reusable nanomaterial can be used in a variety of large-scale process designs, including outdoor solar treatment, and deliver greater treatment efficiency with less complexity and cost.

What do you hope to see in the future of combining water and nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is already quietly supporting water, from massive desalination projects to in-home treatment.

Water reuse and increased wastewater quality is critical in a growing, yet water-scarce world. I think breakthroughs in new nanomaterials, and most critically, knowledge of how to scale them, will be imperative.

What are your priorities for 2018?

Demonstrating our technology at larger scale. We have had success this year with our Canadian Oil Sands partners for outdoor, solar treatment and creating a mobile pilot system for indoor, UV treatment.

Send us your water! We want to build our treatment portfolio and identify where H2nanO is most impactful.

What has the transition from academic to operator taught you? 

Great science is only half the battle. Designing better materials may earn publications, but what if there is no way to use them?

H2nanO continues to teach us when science novelty or practiced engineering is the right solution. Often, it’s both, and there is power in knowing the right balance.

Sum up your IH2O experience in 3 words.

Refreshing, invigorating, and sustaining (like the water we love).