Introducing a new treatment technology to the market, particularly one that endeavours to disrupt it, is no easy task. But H2nanO is up for the challenge.
The early-stage, Kitchener-Waterloo-based company offers a low-cost, nano-enabled photocatalyst technology that specializes in degrading contaminants in water, ranging from petrochemicals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, to other hard-to-treat organic chemicals.
“Our unique process employs a reusable nanomaterial that uses an ultraviolet (UV) light source, including direct sunlight, to degrade wastewater contaminants,” says Zac Young, one of H2nanO’s co-founders.”We’ve found an inexpensive and scalable way to efficiently and passively clean wastewater to allow safe discharge or reuse.”
“While photocatalysts have been deployed in treatments before, one of the key innovations for H2nanO is how we deploy and recover nanoparticles,” he says. “Unlike competing technologies, which generally use energy or chemical intensive methods of recovering particles, our team has taken a bottom-up approach and designed a proprietary catalyst material that builds in separation techniques that are easier to use.”
H2nanO uses different types of nanoparticles. One is a variant that floats to the top of the water, which, in addition to making it easier to skim and remove, also makes it ideal for solar treatment because the surface is where UV intensity is the strongest. Another variant involves a switchable magnetic feature that causes particles in the contaminated water to disperse as if ordinary material, but then can be recovered rapidly in the presence of a magnet.
“These variants give us the ability to more practically deploy nanomaterials for water treatment that no other treatment platform has offered before,” Young says. “Today, we are working on scaling that up so that we can be market ready.”
Leveraging WaterTAP’s Direct Assistance Program
To accelerate toward market readiness, H2nanO sought WaterTAP’s expertise through its Direct Assistance program on two different occasions.
“Our company’s first project with WaterTAP was a high-level assessment of potential customers, market drivers, and a reasonable go-to-market strategy,” Young says. “This project helped us consider how we were going to scope our process technology and deliver those systems to a variety of different customer verticals.”
“One of the key recommendations was that we should determine a go-to-market partner that is an expert in doing process integration and front-end design. That would be a strong, synergistic combination,” he says. “Once we identified H2nanO’s target market and now that we’ve proven our technology, our second Direct Assistance project, which began this past summer, has helped us find new partners to help us scale up through pilot systems.”
Through the program, WaterTAP provided an assessment tool that helped H2NanO establish key market metrics, as well as identify the ideal partner candidate, Young adds. “Now our assessments are more objective in their search criteria, which helps us to be more efficient in our outreach to those contacts.”
“WaterTAP’s Direct Assistance program has been helpful in accelerating H2NanO’s progress,” he says. “Through WaterTAP’s mentorship, we’ve had access to expert business development and experience with respect to the water sector. Without this program, it would have been difficult to gain access to this kind of sector expertise.”
Scaling up through partnerships
Finding a partner will be crucial for H2nanO as it moves to its next milestone, which is to have a containerized system that includes all of the packaged equipment that makes use of the materials and works with the design of continuous treatment and recovery of the particle. “We provided potential partners with questionnaires, which allowed us to make an informed decision on not only the foremost partner candidate, but also possible subsequent partnerships in the future,” Young says.
As well, WaterTAP helped H2nanO connect with David Martin, an experienced cleantech and water consultant. “David’s familiarity with the water sector and the type of work we do helped us gain access to a pilot system,” he says. “We were ready to move forward, and having WaterTAP provide access to key resources accelerated our growth substantially compared to what we could have achieved on our own.”
From these consultations, H2nanO has recently begun work with Burlington-based Kontek Ecology Systems Inc., which specializes in wastewater treatment, water recovery, and water purification. After corroborating from the survey that Kontek was the right fit to help the company scale up, a preliminary agreement was secured.
“One of the big values of the second WaterTAP project was giving us a strong assessment of how Kontek was an ideal candidate partner toward commercialization, and to determine other parties’ strengths, too,” Young says.
The objective for H2nanO is to have its first containerized system or packaged system to start deploying with pilot partners by early 2018.
“As we determine which customers will benefit most from our advanced oxidation technologies, the new packaged system will allow us to visit clients sites to demonstrate what our technology is capable of,” he says. “Furthermore, leveraging a partner like Kontek, who are experts in industrial wastewater treatment and reuse, will add credibility and strength to our go-to-market platform.”
Young is quick to emphasize the crucial intervention of WaterTAP. “Direct Assistance gave us insight and access to experts in the industry that can really raise the profile of our company,” he says. “For an industry that can be tough to gain traction, doing projects with WaterTAP has launched us in the right direction, and we’re hopeful that more of these type of programs can help both us and other water startups in Ontario.”