Founded in 2021, Salinity Solutions has developed a patented system that promises to purify global water supplies while consuming half of the energy used in conventional methods.
The startup, which was established in Coventry by Professor Philip Davies and Timothy Naughton, has already raised over £3.2 million in grant funding and more than £1.3 million through crowdfunding efforts.
“The world needs more fresh water, our energy consumption needs to be reduced, and our environmental impact needs to improve,” explains Naughton. “Our passion for water treatment is founded in a very real concern: the demand for freshwater is on the increase while the world’s supply is steadily decreasing.”
With just 0.5% of the world’s water available as a usable resource, its value to society cannot be overstated. Indeed, water is essential to human survival, economic development, food production, global peace and the health of natural ecosystems.
Currently, however, our water supplies are in a state of rapid decline. Over the past two decades, terrestrial water storage has been declining by around 1 centimetre each year. This trend is being driven by a number of factors, including population growth, climate change and the ongoing expansion of intensive industrial activity.
As these factors continue to evolve, estimates suggest that water scarcity will reach the global level as soon as 2030. By 2050, more than five billion people will lack sufficient access for at least one month per year.
Effective water treatment can ensure that remaining water supplies are kept as a safe and renewable resource but, with most available treatment technologies being extremely energy intensive, the environmental trade-offs involved may only worsen the problem.
Conventional technology gets an innovative upgrade
“Salinity Solutions provides a compact and highly efficient water treatment system that will dramatically reduce the energy footprint of a wide range of industrial processes,” says Naughton. The system is based on reverse osmosis, which uses a change in pressure to clean the water by pushing it through a semi-permeable membrane.
“Reverse Osmosis (RO) is one of the most effective forms of water treatment, but conventional systems are energy intensive and produce too much waste,” Naughton explains.
“Salinity’s high efficiency Batch RO technology is the first commercialised example of next generation Reverse Osmosis. Its patented system uses less than half the energy of conventional RO, while delivering market leading recovery rates by recirculating the feedwater around the membrane. Its pressure process reduces the average pressure in the system, dramatically reducing pumping energy.”
Overall, Naughton claims that the technology uses up to 70% less energy than conventional RO while reducing waste by approximately 80%.
According to Naughton, the SAM50 system can be used in applications including environmental clean-ups, water recycling and mineral extraction. With its diverse functionality, the company is targeting industries ranging from municipal wastewater treatment to mining, manufacturing and agriculture.
“We believe that adoption of this technology will have an impact in every corner of the globe, across every layer of society, from rural drinking water to large industrial processes,” says Naughton. “We’ve already identified at least 20 different sectors which could benefit. Our immediately addressable market is worth €26bn in an industry that will turn over €470bn by 2028.”
Next steps to commercial expansion
Though there is clearly a market for its technology, Salinity Solutions will have to overcome a number of hurdles on its road to commercialisation.
“Our biggest challenge, which will also demonstrate market viability, is to achieve mass adoption of the technology,” Naughton explains. “To achieve rapid adoption, we need to find global licensees for the technology. For this to happen, we need to raise awareness of our work and build our credibility in the water treatment industry, promoting visibility among investors, potential partners, customers, and buyers.”
Nonetheless, the startup appears to be making progress. It has recently entered into an agreement with Te-Tech, an established manufacturer of water processing solutions, to produce a line of bespoke units that are to be sold into three different industries within the coming year. The company has also partnered with Cornish Lithium, enabling it to demonstrate its technology in an initial field trial.
“Our next milestone is the conclusion of successful field trials that we are undertaking for municipal wastewater clients.” says Naughton. “In the meantime, we will be looking for additional investment to enable further development of the product and participation in other field trials.”
As it advances towards its commercial expansion, Salinity Solutions will continue to search for collaborative opportunities while harnessing the support of its local community.
“We can imagine greater collaboration between the different water treatment technologies (pre-treatment, post-treatment, dosing etc) to help create low-carbon treatment system chains. By working together there can be a greater emphasis on energy reduction of total systems, not just individual components,” Naughton observes.
“We feel very fortunate to be based in the West Midlands, close to Birmingham, which has rapidly become an epicentre for burgeoning tech start-ups and provides a source of growing talent,” he continues.
“The city is extremely supportive of entrepreneurs, proving a wealth of incentives, funding and support to ensure companies survive those early business years. We have recently won a grant to allow us to move into a bespoke site adjacent to the Birmingham Energy Institute. Also, as a University of Birmingham spinout company, we benefit greatly from the ongoing assistance offered by its enterprise arm, including PR, investment and governance.”
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