Over one year ago, WaterTAP profiled the disruptive startup H2nanO Inc. Based in Kitchener, and part of the Kitchener-Toronto innovation corridor, the company’s unique approach to treatment deploys a reusable nanomaterial that uses an ultraviolet (UV) light, including direct sunlight, to degrade contaminants in wastewater.
At the time, H2nanO was enrolled in WaterTAP’s Growth Catalyst program to establish key market metrics, as well as identify ideal partner candidates. Supported by consultation with KnoWater, H2nanO began a preliminary agreement with Burlington-based Kontek Ecology Systems Inc., a company that specializes in wastewater treatment, water recovery, and water purification. Furthermore, Kontek was determined to be an ideal partner for helping H2nanO scale up its reusable UV advanced oxidation technology.
From the strength of this partnership, as well as further mentorship from WaterTAP and other consultants including Echion Group, H2nanO has gone on to develop its first containerized system for testing.
Alongside this UV pilot project, the company successfully completed a demonstration project this past summer. This project deployed H2nanO’s passive solar treatment to treat oil sands process-affected water with partnership from five major oil sands companies that are members of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). The pilot project has been highly successful, demonstrating that H2nanO can improve the water quality with a few days of solar exposure for compounds that are otherwise slow to naturally degrade. Needless to say, H2nanO’s solutions are proving to be versatile, ably tackling a variety of water challenges, and the company is positioning itself for further success.
Pandora’s box: Establishing the first containerized system
In early 2018, the Growth Catalyst program continued to support H2nanO with access to expertise from KnoWater and Echion Group, which helped strengthen the company’s business strategy. But the company was behind schedule in achieving its first containerized system.
According to Zac Young, H2nanO’s co-founder, the first system took longer than planned, but the extra development time was a productive period for learning how to better specify, design, and optimize UV system for using their materials. The time helped his team determine the appropriate system components, as well to work out the inherent strengths and flaws of different system configurations.
“We had opened Pandora’s box in terms of the process engineering components that were compatible with our core technology,” Young says. “Despite extending our timelines, we’ve come out of the experience with better tools and a stronger understanding of our ideal applications.”
In November 2017, the Growth Catalyst program helped H2nanO work with Brad Wilson, a process engineer who helped optimize its UV treatment design and process. In July 2018, H2nanO welcomed Wilson as a full-time member of the team. Young says that having Wilson liaise with multiple UV manufacturers led to a UV equipment leader providing its trial equipment to H2nanO for testing with Kontek.
“We were able to trial key equipment to demonstrate our system without the same procurement risk,” he says. “This setup helped us develop our internal engineering and modeling tools. This led to breakthroughs in our demonstration at a larger-scale, factory context. Specifically, this project used continuous UV treatment rather than the solar treatment approach we took for the oil sands projects.”
As of fall 2018, the partnership with Kontek has materialized into a fully functioning pilot system that H2nanO is using to conduct and report on internal trials for both simulated and customer-sourced wastewater.
In customer discovery mode
Now that H2nanO and Kontek have a system that they are using for testing, they are actively engaged in customer discovery. “We’re using the coming months to execute with motivated early adopters, and to scale demonstrations toward exciting in-field results,” Young says. “We have the runway now for larger-scale tests, so it’s about finding the right partners who will champion our treatment process.”
Key case studies will be the goal of these test trials. “We are seeking compelling application scenarios, including the potential to install our system in an adopter’s facility, and develop case studies covering the scope of commercial deployment,” he says.
“Our pitch right now is that it’s low-risk opportunity to engage,” Young says. “From a small water sample, we can quickly evaluate whether a potential client’s water problem is within our strike zone, and grow to our pilot systems from there.”
Working with WaterTAP
As the company moves toward commercialization, Young says WaterTAP has significantly accelerated H2nanO’s success to date.
“Through the Growth Catalyst program, WaterTAP offers an opportunity that is tailored to water treatment companies to gain access to support at the early commercialization stage,” he says. “Developing partnerships like the one we have with Kontek, as well as welcoming new talented hires such as Brad who is now an integral member of our team, has absolutely accelerated our commercialization roadmap. We’re grateful that we continue to receive WaterTAP’s support.”
Josh Chong is a communications coordinator at WaterTAP.
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Image copyright WaterTAP/Nick Spector