Insights from industry: Mark Owen, the founder and CEO of Puralytics, talks to Gary Thomas about the innovative Solarbag, a major step in the world of water purification.
GT: Could you please provide a brief introduction to the industry that, Puralytics works within and outline the key drivers?
Water is the most precious resource in the world, and clean, safe, water is increasingly rare. For water to be safe, both toxins and germs must be removed to safe levels, as defined by organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In industrial and municipal water treatment systems, multiple components are put together to make a treatment system, like sedimentation tanks, filters, membranes, chemicals, germicidal lamps, etc. requiring significant engineering development and support. This is of course impractical in rural or developing world situations, or during a crisis and so people are constantly at risk from unsafe water.
In the world, about ½ of all hospital beds are filled with people with water borne illnesses, and nearly 4 Billion people do not have access to safe water that meets the WHO guidelines. This makes it challenging for travellers, those dependent on wells, or open sources of water anywhere. Boiling or chlorine tablets can reduce the germs, but no solutions available for these conditions addresses the full spectrum of contaminants – until now, with the Puralytics SolarBag.
GT: Could you please give a brief overview of Puralytics?
Puralytics is an investor-backed, early stage technology company which has pioneered a new way to purify water using light activated nanotechnology. Puralytics has two product lines:
The Shield, an LED powered water purifier system family which can be used for decentralized drinking water, laboratory ultrapure water, and certain waste water applications.
The SolarBag, a sunlight powered water purifier for remote water purification for providing safe water anywhere in the world.
We have sold and shipped these products into more than 35 countries to date.
GT: How does the water purification process work and what contaminants can be removed using this process?
Light, either from sunlight or LEDs, illuminates a nanotechnology coated mesh which activates five photochemical processes to purify water and automatically keeps the system clean. Unlike other systems which sequester the contaminants into filters or waste streams, or require chemical additives to neutralize them, Puralytics products complete destroy pathogens and chemical contaminants in photochemical processes leaving only water, CO2, and minerals as by-products.
Through this technology, bacteria, viruses, and protozoa are completely destroyed, exceeding EPA purifier guidelines. Chemical contaminants like pesticides, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, industrial solvents, nitrates and personal care products are destroyed, and heavy metals like Arsenic, Lead, and Mercury are reduced. The technology is a full spectrum water purification system, but it does not remove salt, which is already mineralized to its most simple state.
GT: What applications does your water purification process have and where can it be effectively used?
The SolarBag is primarily being used for decentralized or remote drinking water applications such as in the developing world, for emergency preparedness kits, and for recreational users for biking, camping, boating, etc.
A SolarBag being filled. Image Source: Rob Gara
GT: How is the Puralytics process beneficial to the environment?
The Shield and SolarBag are the only products in their market spaces that destroy contaminants, completely removing them from the environment by breaking down their chemical structure to simple, inert compounds like water and CO2. Additionally, the Shield uses only highly efficient LEDs, and almost no replacement parts in its operating life. Finally the SolarBag uses no power except the sunlight, and the plastic materials can be recycled after about 500 uses.
GT: Puralytics has recently released a retail version of the Solarbag-could you briefly talk a little bit about this product and its applications?
The retail version of the SolarBag is designed for travellers, emergency preparedness kits, and recreational users. Either for sport, business, or after a disaster, we may find ourselves in a situation where safe water is unavailable. The retail SolarBag, which weighs only 4 oz and packs flat in a suitcase, backpack, car/boat, or kit, can simply provide safe water anywhere. It works on sunny and cloudy days to provide safe water out of unknown water sources.
GT: How is the solarbag unique in the water purification field?
There are literally hundreds of products on the market based on filters, membranes, chemicals or lamps. We are the only one that has ever achieved EPA water purifier guidelines with only sunlight, without power or chemicals. That we also remove chemical contaminants and heavy metals makes us completely unique of any water purification system on the market. The SolarBag also is the lightest, has the longest shelf life, can be used hundreds of times without any cleaning, and is by far the simplest system to use – simply fill and place in the sunlight!
An innovative SolarBag. Image Source: Rob Gara
GT: You were recently voted a 2012 Pivotal leader in PacNW Cleantech-could you explain a little about what this means and how you achieved this?
This is a regional recognition of leaders who are likely to make a significant difference in the Cleantech industry. First there is a nomination process whereby past leaders and others in the community can nominate leaders for consideration. Then there is a second stage, where only those who are nominated can vote for each other in a peer review process. We were honoured to be nominated, and were surprised to be recognized by our peers.
GT: How do you see the future of water purification progressing over the next 10 years?
Like the computer and telecom industries of the 1960s, the water industry is still stuck on the old ideas of big, central processing, massive corporations, engineers to manage the processes, regulations to define water quality for everyone, and dumb systems with few sensors or adaptive intelligence. This is all changing as we speak. Decentralized, intelligent water purification systems is the future, and they will be integrated into our lives as much as our cell phones and laptops are today. The government has kept us safe through regulations for a hundred years or more, but there are too many contaminants, they cannot keep up. Individuals will increasingly provide their own water purification systems to protect themselves from contaminants that didn’t exist 50 years ago.