For me, one of the most fascinating areas in cleantech is technology for monitoring and protecting the quality of municipal water supplies. This has been, of course, an increasingly pressing security challenge since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for the approximately 16,000 public water utilities and 25,000 wastewater treatment plants across the United States.
Accordingly, water security is the focus of a start-up that was recognized as an innovator by IBM at its recent SmartCamp technology conference in Austin, Texas. That company, SecureWaters, has created a system called AquaSentinel that continuously monitors and tests for chemical toxins in water supplies. It does this by closely monitoring the fluorescence of local algae and establishing a baseline. Deviations from that baseline are indicators of toxins in the water. Readings are taken every minute-and-a-half by sensor nets (with anywhere from 100 to 500 sensors) strategically placed at the inlets or outlets for bodies of water.
Barrett Taylor, marketing and sales director for SecureWaters, said AquaSentinel is being considered for proof-of-concept applications by various military agencies. The company, which is targeting municipal water utilities as its primary customer base, is also working to commercialize the technology. One test is taking place through a venture with the Tennessee Valley Authority and the University of Tennessee, he said. SecureWaters has its corporate headquarters in Chattanooga, Tenn.
"We are looking for primary market feedback to help set the price point, gather operations information and understand better how [AquaSentinel] works in the field. ... We also want to make sure that there is nothing we are overlooking," Barrett said.
Aside from municipal water utilities, AquaSentinel could be attractive to companies that use large amounts of untreated surface water or that discharge large amounts of water into surface waters, according to SecureWaters' background information. In that market, prospects could include ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Citgo, Valero, BP, Calumet and Marathon, the company said.
When I spoke with the SecureWaters team, the company was in the process of seeking about $1.9 million in equity capital. Up until now, it has been privately funded.