Arun Raj, UW graduate environmental studies student, along with his Team Espresso teammates Christina Mallin of Wageningen University in the Netherlands and Pallavi Roy of Ryerson University, won a $15,000 USD startup grant at the Future Technologies for Water Competition (FTWC) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), Oct. 15.
The FTWC was hosted for the first time this year and received over 70 applications from teams in 27 countries. The competition, sponsored by Takata Cooperation, works to provide business plans and support for people working on breakthrough technologies for safe water. The Water Institute at UNC looks at ways to shorten the water cycle by using grey water (water that has not come in contact with feces such as water from sinks, baths, and some household appliances), rapid testing of water samples, and protecting vulnerable and sensitive populations. Raj’s team falls into the second category, looking at better managing water usage and waste in the mining industry. They specifically looked at the online monitoring of heavy metals in mine effluents (liquid waste from mining). Their idea came from a project they were given at the Wetskills Canada Challenge. Wetskills was a workshop held at Ryerson University and co-hosted by Ryerson and the Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Toronto, where students were invited to work with industry leaders and water experts to find solutions to their current problems. Aqua Structure Solutions Inc. worked with the team to “come up with a possible solution for sensing and monitoring heavy metals in Canada’s remote northern communities,” their website states. Raj first heard of the FTWC over Twitter. “I was on my way back home [from the Wetskills Canada Challenge], still high on energy, when I saw this tweet,” Raj said. He and his teammates then perfected their idea to submit to the FTWC. They also presented at the Small Business, Big World partnership, a collaboration between Canadian and Dutch companies that took place Sept. 25, 2014 and discussed environmental monitoring. The current plan for the team is to test this technology in labs at UW and then test how practical this idea is. The money won will be used for testing. “We want to try and set up some demonstration in the lab and see how conducive it is,” Raj said. “We don’t see ourselves making the product, because we don’t have that set up, but we would work with somebody who could,” he said. “We want to come up with a feasibility study, to see what the economic benefit would be.” Raj is pursuing his thesis studying the business stewardship of water: “So [looking at] what is the financial value of investing in sustainable water…what do businesses get out of it,” he explained. He sees himself working in the private sector in water. Runner-ups for the FTWC are Team Planktos Instruments members Dr. Scott Ensign and Ryan Neve of UNC. Their water quality monitoring equipment that “provide remote access to real-time instrumental data” won them $5,000 USD.