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Pioneering a fundamentally new approach to wastewater

Daryl Briggs is the Founder and CEO of Aquafortus, based in Auckland, New Zealand. Aquafortus is a team of wastewater experts pioneering a solution to separate clean water from practically any contaminant, especially salts. Their approach could revolutionize the Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) market, and replace high-energy, high-cost incumbent approaches. Imagine H2O sat down with Daryl and the team at WEFTEC 2019 to discuss their novel technology, challenges, and market applications.

How is Aquafortus revolutionizing brine wastewater management?

Reducing wastewater contaminants to a solid state is a difficult process. Most contaminants, especially salts, love being in water – they really don’t want to be removed from the solution they’re in. This means extraction (or cleaning) brines to 100 percent dry solid removal is seriously tough. Current technologies like reverse osmosis (RO) only purify brines up to maybe 10 percent strength – a long way off 100 percent which is ideally what you’re looking for. Meanwhile, incumbent technologies capable of converting to 100 percent are far too energy intensive. They literally just evaporate off the water. We thought there had to be a better way.

The Aquafortus ABX technology liberates clean water from any brine using a fraction of the energy required by evaporators and crystallizers. Aquafortus achieves an environmentally friendly means of brine management and Zero Liquid Discharge – at half the cost of its competitors. It’s exciting.

“When people think about brine management, they think about huge seawater desalination plants spewing brine concentrate back into the oceans. However, that is not our core market or the main focus for brine management.”

What were your initial challenges starting this business?

Securing early-stage capital was an obvious challenge. Since we developed a radical means of managing highly saline water, it took time for investors to get comfortable with our idea. Initially, we could only offer a tiny glimpse into what was essentially a new frontier of chemistry -applicable to several industries. As a deep-tech enterprise, we required high upfront capital to develop and protect our technology. We were fortunate to work with early funders who had immense courage, faith, and a high risk tolerance to back what could become a pretty significant technology solving a major global industrial challenge.

Life is a little easier now that we have clients and revenue, but it was certainly a challenge in the early days, that’s for sure.

What is most misunderstood about the market for industrial brine management?

Generally, when people think about brine management, they think about huge seawater desalination plants spewing brine concentrate back into the oceans. That’s not our core market or the main focus of brine management. Separating water out of a brine — such as seawater, and then putting it back to where it came from is not a huge problem. But extraction, beneficiation, or processing a resource like oil or gas into a product that generates a brine wastewater can cause headaches since there is nowhere for the wastewater to go. This is the issue our technology addresses — simplifying the management of brine wastewater streams in a cost effective manner.

Describe Aquafortus’ opportunity to change water resource management practices globally.

At Aquafortus, we want to build a world where industry and the environment exist in harmony — as a species, we must develop in a way that does not harm the very planet that sustains us. Otherwise our humanity’s future will look very different and we will quickly realize how much we took for granted. We (like Imagine H2O) think that water issues will be the way most people experience climate change, so we need to protect our water resources. We see ourselves as very much being in that fight — to protect the substance we need most.

What is the single thing that would make your job easier?

Massive, high quality data sets about the size and scope of the Brine Management and ZLD markets would be a huge help. We’re already thinking globally and ZLD is a major industrial issue in India. But the market is highly fragmented, with a large number of small clients that have diverse needs. It’s not an ideal target market for an early stage company. In comparison, the US oil & gas market has large installation sizes and common needs across clients. This allows an early stage company like us to build a great system that is replicable across many clients with common needs. Selecting and targeting these entry markets is driven by access to quality, deep market data, not just attractive looking headline figures, and it’s just hard to find good data off the shelf. The curse of the entrepreneur, I guess — you have to bring the problem into focus as well as the solution!

Sum up your experience with Imagine H2O’s accelerator in 3 words.

Energizing. Deep. Valuable.