Univ. of Washington spinout aims to wipe out ‘chemicals forever’ with kill tech system – GeekWire

Aquagga CEO Nigel Sharp presents at GeekWire’s Elevator Pitch contest which airs later this summer. (GeekWire Photo/Kevin Lisota)

Earlier this month, the US Environmental Protection Agency issued new water health advisories for PFAS, or “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.” These so-called “eternal chemicals” rarely break down in the environment and are commonly used in consumer goods such as waterproof clothing, non-stick pans and food packaging. PFAS can eventually end up in our drinking water, soil and air. Scientific studies have shown that exposure to PFAS can cause adverse health effects, according to the EPA.

Now, a rising Seattle-based startup is taking on PFAS.

Nigel Sharp, Brian Pinkard and Chris Woodruff are the co-founders of Aquagga, a 3-year-old cleantech hardware startup developing technology to break down and destroy PFAS. The company has its roots in research done at the University of Washington and the University of Alaska.

Sharp, CEO, has years of experience building startups. Pinkard, CTO, has a doctorate from UW with a focus on hazardous waste destruction. And Woodruff, COO, has a strong engineering background.

Aquagga provides PFAS destruction services for water engineering and environmental remediation projects. Its containerized system uses high temperatures and pressures to break the carbon-fluorine bonds that hold PFAS molecules together – one of nature’s strongest chemical bonds. According to Pinkard, the technology completely destroys PFAS molecules and removes wastewater contamination without toxic byproducts. This effectively reduces water and soil contamination, helping to maintain sustainable environments.

Aquagga’s “Steed Series” can handle 10 to 100 gallons per hour. (Picture Aquagga)

“The only solution to PFAS is to physically clean it from the environment, capture it and break it down. We are working on that final step,” Pinkard said. “The secret sauce we provide is actually taking these molecules and breaking them down into safe minerals. We are ending this cycle and removing PFAS from the world.”

By 2025, Sharp estimates that the potential market size for PFAS will be approximately $80 billion per year in the United States. He adds that PFAS destruction is probably 5-10% of the market, or about $4-8 billion a year.

PFAS was the subject of an episode of The Daily Show in September. Host John Oliver explained that even if consumers choose to be responsible, PFAS can still enter their bloodstream and lead to dangerous health effects if factories don’t dispose of the waste properly.

Although significant progress has been made to eliminate the need for PFAS in industrial uses, there is still a strong demand for PFAS in everyday consumer products, according to the Aquagga team.

The team chose the name “Aquagga” for its technology because “quagga” is an extinct mammal resembling the African zebra, and the startup’s goal is to have a positive social impact as a “zebra” business. according to Sharp. He said the company aligns with the Zebras Unite movement which emphasizes startup ethics and cooperation rather than competition.

Aquagga currently has 10 full-time employees and aims to become a Certified B Corporation in the future, an accreditation given to companies that meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance.

Aquagga founders: Nigel Sharp (left), Brian Pinkard (middle) and Chris Woodruff (right). (Picture Aquagga)

Aquagga won first place in the EPA Global PFAS Challenge and the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Competition. He has also received grants from the National Science Foundation, the EPA and the US Air Force. Through these federal grants and scholarships, Aquagga raised approximately $2 million. Additionally, Aquagga has raised just over $500,000 in private angel funding from angel investors.

Sharp will be featured in the sustainability category of the third season of GeekWire’s Elevator Pitch series, airing later this summer.

We caught up with co-founders Sharp and Pinkard for this Startup Spotlight feature. Keep reading to learn more about Aquagga.

Our business model and our customers: We are a full-service company and generally accompany other treatment solutions used to filter PFAS, for example, from water. Our clients are often contractors who are already carrying out environmental site remediation projects or large water engineering companies, who actually provide engineering services for water utilities and utilities. sanitation. We have a huge opportunity to work with the Department of Defense, which has many sites heavily impacted by PFAS.

“PFAS aren’t going anywhere.”

The volume of PFAS destruction we can handle and our scaling limits: Our current systems produce 1 to 2.5 gallons per hour. Honestly, it’s a very simple technology to scale. So expect orders of magnitude larger than that over the next two years. By the end of this year we will be up to 10-20 gallons per hour with a system. Putting in our total combined effort, you should be able to process somewhere near 30,000 to 40,000 gallons per hour in the near future, and that puts a real dent in the problem.

The smartest decision we’ve made so far: A risky move from a completely remote multi-state dispatch to an in-person presence under the Maritime Blue Incubator program in Tacoma, Washington in 2021. Beyond office space, it offered us access to a wet lab to perform some of our first test and tech proof cases, and we arrived at a time that allowed many South Puget Sounders to support us and mark our arrival, which helped keep our momentum.

How economic uncertainty is affecting our business and how we are preparing: Like any startup, our superpower is agility and the ability to pivot to opportunities and adapt to emerging challenges. Macroeconomic uncertainty, fortunately, does not apply to some of our federal funding sources (other than delays). It has been more difficult to focus on specific fundraising assessments with venture capitalists, but we still see strong market demand and need for our services. As we often say internally, PFAS aren’t going anywhere, so it’s a foregone conclusion, just a matter of priority.

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