EcoWorth Tech, a Singapore-based startup that has developed a technology for the sustainable treatment of wastewater, has completed a seed round worth just over US$777,000 through a combination of venture capital and crowdfunding.
Co-founder and CEO Andre Stolz told Tech in Asia that just under a third of the money was raised via FundedHere, an equity crowdfunding platform for accredited investors. Of the remainder, about US$185,000 came from venture builder Budding Innovations – where Stolz serves as managing director – with the largest portion of around US$370,000 coming from an undisclosed private funding group.
“Having access to FundedHere’s community of investors enables us to gain a wider range of contacts and potentially raise a higher amount in our next funding round,” he said.
EcoWorth Tech’s core product is a material called carbon fibre aerogel (CFA). Highly absorbent, non-toxic, and recyclable, CFA can be used to absorb organic waste materials from wastewater – in other words, contaminated water that typically results as a byproduct of certain industrial processes.
CFA is placed into cartridges. Wastewater is heated to a high temperature before being passed through these cartridges, which filter out the unwanted organic materials in the water.
Customers can use the cartridges several times before needing to recycle them. The CFA itself can be produced from a range of cellulose-based waste materials, such as cotton or paper. The organic waste filtered out of wastewater can, depending on its composition, be transformed into biofuel and sold – adding to the product’s sustainability credentials.
CFA was invented by Zhang Hua, a professor in the School of Material Science and Engineering at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) who serves as EcoWorth Tech’s chief science officer. Stolz says that CFA has been patented by NTU’s commercialization arm, NTUitive, which has granted EcoWorth Tech an exclusive global license to the technology. This means the startup has exclusive rights to manufacture the material and develop applications for it.
Stolz said that EcoWorth Tech will produce CFA in-house and will provide customers with end-to-end treatment solutions, including design, installation, and maintenance. These can be integrated into their existing treatment processes or implemented on a standalone basis.
The startup will generate revenue through multiple streams, including sale and replacement of cartridges, designing and commissioning treatment systems, and ongoing customer support and maintenance of equipment, he added.
Stolz estimates the global addressable market for EcoWorth Tech’s products at US$180 billion, and growing. Wastewater treatment is an area that many startups worldwide are targeting with a nod towards environmental sustainability. Other Singapore-based players include Ceraflo, as well as longer established companies such as EcoWise, MattenPlant, and TriTech.
Stolz argues that EcoWorth Tech is differentiated from these potential competitors through the added efficiencies of its offering – including the possibility of monetizing some of it byproducts.
“Current solutions for removal of organic contaminants are costly, suboptimal, and inefficient,” he said. “Technologies used today generate secondary waste and create no value out of waste. [We’re] addressing global issues of scarcity of clean water, in particular the costly and inefficient treatment of wastewater that often creates additional waste. The biggest impact [of our product] will be seen for applications where today’s waste can be turned into value-added products with their own worth.”
EcoWorth Tech will use the seed funding to trial its products on an industrial scale with large corporate clients.
“[We’re] already working closely with two strategic industry partners to scale-up the technology and treat actual industrial wastewater, to validate performance and our financial model,” said Stolz.
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