Liquid Assets
4:00 am
Fri September 27, 2013

Liquid Assets: Local water technologies have global impact

Credit WCPO

More than 780 million people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water and 2.6 billion don't have access to proper sanitation. For local water technology companies those numbers are a call to action and a major business opportunity.

Jason Barkeloo of Bacterial Robotics doesn't need a large office space. When he needs lab space, he goes to bioLOGIC, a biotech incubator in Northern Kentucky.
Credit Tana Weingartner

It's something most of us probably take for granted but for billions of people across the globe proper sanitation just doesn't exist. That's a big problem - and for water start-up owners like Jason Barkeloo of Bacterial Robotics - it's also big business. He's preparing to license his technologies in China and India, nascent markets he says don't have legacy projects holding them back.

“They don’t have centralized wastewater treatment plants for example, so they look at things like, well can you decentralize wastewater treatment,” says Barkeloo. “And that ability to leap past the legacy environments like wireless did for example. They don’t have phone lines running all over India and China like we do in the USA, everyone has a mobile.”

Bacterial Robotics created tiny bacteria called bacto-bots that, in highly simplified terms, clean waste water and produce electricity. Beyond sanitation, water is important to global manufacturing, agriculture and of course for drinking.

Confluence Water Innovation Technology Cluster Board of Directors President Alan Vicory says, “The hottest of the hot spots is the Asian-pacific region, China, India, the Middle East is a water scarce region and a lot of people are going to be added to those regions, Northern Africa. Singapore – a small island that recognizes the must find ways to use water more efficiently and become more and more independent of themselves.”

Former U.S. Commercial Service International Trade Specialist Kara Sweeney (L) with Commercial Service Director Marcia Brandstadt.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

The international water market is fraught with regulatory hurdles. That's where Kara Sweeney comes in. As the outgoing international trade specialist with the U.S. Commercial Service's Cincinnati office she helped companies find opportunities and cut through red tape. {Editor’s note: Sweeney accepted a new position after this interview was conducted.}

“There’s a lot of potential,” Sweeney said. “We see a lot with water technologies as far as requests coming from overseas offices looking for different types of technologies.”

For example, there's a company in Saudi Arabia looking for a way to identify water pipeline leaks and employ specialized sensors throughout its systems. The Commercial Service is focused on tapping into Cincinnati's water industry, specifically targeting water technology businesses here and seeking related opportunities abroad.

“I think we are still getting that name out there overseas that there is this hotbed here for water industries and water technologies. When I tell them we have the labs and the types of companies we have, there is a positive response. So I think hopefully we can get that word out. There is a reason to come visit. There’s a reason to look at our companies. I think it’s going to be great for the area,” said Sweeney.

Major corporations are also focusing on their big water needs and target markets overseas. Procter and Gamble's Scott Dyer says the company wants to reduce its own water consumption as well as that of the people using its products.

“I routinely (am) seeing new technologies coming across my desk with the ultimate (goal) of reducing water and our energy costs,” he says.

P&G has slashed water usage at manufacturing sites more than 20 percent since 2007. It’s created Downey Single Rinse, Tide Cold Water and its foreign counterpart, Ariel Ultra which all require less water and energy to use.

Says Dyer, “There’s a lot of chemical and product innovation that has to go along with the continued reduction of water.”

The company also spends a lot of money and time creating and distributing small chemical packets people in third world countries use for small scale water purification. Dyer says one packet can create 10 liters of potable water.

Alan Vicory of Confluence points out another reason companies with manufacturing plants around the world, like P&G have a vested interest in water.

“If their workforce doesn’t have the gift, if you will, of clean drinking water they will be sick. They will not show up.”

Employees also have to eat so Vicory says technologies are desperately needed to make agricultural water use more efficient. And if all this can, and is being done, in Greater Cincinnati then that's good news for the local economy.