A wave of startup companies is rising up to address the growing need for wastewater treatment and monitoring solutions, a $600 billion industry that has traditionally been dominated by legacy companies such as GE, Veolia, Siemens Siemens and Suez.
What’s more, the industry as a whole is generating average operating profits of 12.9%, reports Lux Research analyst Brent Giles in the firm’s new analysis, “Making Money in the Water Industry.” The report analyzes financial data from more than 150 large companies and activity involving 150 startups, across nine different sectors including wastewater monitoring and control, basic wastewater treatment, metals and organics recovery, and disinfection.
“Opportunities and risks in the water industry more closely equate to the auto industry than the nascent industries commentators more often compare it to,” writes Lux Research in the report. “Crucially,
Like energy, water is one of those things that every company and community needs to worry about, especially in the face of future scarcity trends. The United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health famously estimated that it will take an annual investment of $840 billion to address water waste, pollution and management problems. Overall, the UN figures that about one-fifth of the world’s population is challenged by water scarcity, and another 1.6 billion have limited access for economic reasons. “As we approach some planetary tipping points, and resulting irreversible changes, innovative perspectives and paradigm shifts are necessary,” said Nikhil Seth, director of the division of sustainable development at the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
What sectors are particularly active among the startup set? The Lux Research report suggests that almost one-quarter of all the new companies targeting this space are focused on monitoring, forecasts and process controls (through sensors and Internet of Things applications); roughly the same number is addressing basic wastewater treatment. The graphic below offers a more detailed visualization of the sector breakdown (based on the number of companies targeting each space).
Which startups are worth particular attention? Here are 9 identified in the report (listed in alphabetical order):
ANDalyze – Its technology and sensor kits can detect both trace metals (lead, uranium, copper and mercury) and other chemicals. The Champaign, Ill., company scored a distribution deal with Hach, a global leader in water testing equipment, bac in October 2013. Its approach dramatically speeds the testing process, compared with traditional methods.
Alvim Srl – With entrepreneurial roots in Italy, the company is developing approaches for biofouling and biofilm monitoring – the detection of microorganisms that can grown on pipelines, tanks, heat exchangers and other equipment in treatment plants. It is positioned as a services company that can warn operators when biocide levels are out of whack.
Baswood – This company from Santa Barbara, Calif., was founded in 2004 to commercial biological waste treatment technologies that mimic the “natural processes for breaking down organic materials that are found in riverine environments.” Its BioViper system is being used by Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, and it is quietly backed by actors Woody Harrelson and Edward Norton.
BioGill – Hailing from Sydney, Australia, the company sells above-ground bioreactors for wastewater treatment and water recycling. It has developed a network of installers and designers in Australia, New Zealand, India, Fiji and Canada; its technology has been applied at wineries and breweries, as well as food manufacturing and detergent plants.
Emefcy – Recently named to the 2013 Global Cleantech 100, the Israeli company develops modular technologies for wastewater treatment. Its differentiators are energy efficient (it uses less power than conventional methods) and reduced excess sludge. The company was founded in 2008 and its investors include Israel Cleantech Ventures, Plan B Ventures, Pond Venture Partners, True North Venture Partners, Energy Technology Ventures, and GE Ventures.
Gradek Energy – The Canadian company (based in Montreal, Quebec) has developed an organic bi-polymer bead that recovers oil, without requiring a chemical reaction. As befits its heritage, the startup could play a role in processing wastewater and sludge from oil sands production sites. It is testing its concept in collaboration with Syncrude Canada, and its first big commercial demo plant is scheduled to open in June 2015. Toronto-based holding company is one of its biggest backers.
Microvi Technologies – The Hayward, Calif.-based biotech company has received a series of grants in the past year intended to support demonstration tests of its water treatment and biochemical technologies. Just last week, it was awarded $1.5 million by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to continue tests of a system for treating 1,4-Dioxane, an organic contaminant that has been detected in up to 13% of U.S. drinking water.
OptiEnz Sensors – Based in Fort Collins, Colo., the company develops a series of sensors that call on fiber optics to help measure organic chemicals in water, including hydrocarbons, alcohols and sugars. Potential applications include measuring contaminants in water used at oil and gas well hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations, groundwater monitoring, controlling fermentation processes across the food and beverage industry, and remediation.
Water Lens (formerly known as Titralyte) – The startup is commercializing patented technology originally developed at the University of Texas, Austin, that supports on-site testing of drilling fluids or water used in fracking, saving millions on what it normally takes. So far, the company has raised about $2 million from angel investors and venture capital resources; it is testing its approach in collaboration with another Austin startup, Omni Water Solutions, and is also talking to major Texas oil companies.
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