Fresh funds for fresh water

Photo caption: Phil Jessop in his lab in Chernoff Hall (Photo credit: Bernard Clark)

Monday, June 18, 2018

By Phil Gaudreau, Senior Communcations Officer

Water purification technology which started in a Queen’s laboratory is one step closer to commercial reality.

Canadians are the second largest users of water in the world, behind only Americans. Statistics Canada says Canadian households used 3.2 billion cubic metres of water in 2013 (or about 249 litres per person per day), and the majority of that water is simply flushed down the drain.

To help address this problem, Queen’s Professor Philip Jessop has been researching a process called forward osmosis – aiming to return wastewater to a drinkable state. This process could have major implications in both protecting our drinking supply and reducing the cost of purifying or disposing of wastewater.

His intellectual property was licensed from Queen’s by GreenCentre Canada (GCC), a Kingston-based technology and business accelerator focused on green chemistry and materials-science innovations. In addition to being a professor at Queen’s, Dr. Jessop is the Technical Director of GCC.

With GCC’s aid, Dr. Jessop’s technology was shown to be highly effective at remove clean water from waste streams and water containing massive amounts of contaminating salts. This was achieved through a process called forward osmosis.

The forward osmosis technology formed the basis for the GCC spin-off company, Forward Water Technologies (FWT), in October 2012.

GCC has made significant investments in the development of Dr. Jessop’s technology. This includes funding the construction of an engineering scale pilot unit by FWT in Mississauga capable of treating over 1000 litres of wastewater per day.

The success of that pilot resulted in a recently announced joint investment by the not-for-profit Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC) and other private investors to help bring the technology to full commercial readiness.

“We are on the brink of a critical phase in the long path to commercialization, and to garner both financial support and commercial expertise from organizations such as BIC is extremely critical,” said C. Howie Honeyman, Chief Executive Officer of FWT.

This proprietary forward osmosis system is a highly energy efficient process that has successfully removed many pollutants and impurities from wastewater streams. At the end of the process, the fresh water is available for re-use or discharge to either sewer or surface water systems. The technology could be of interest to municipalities, factories, the energy sector, and the chemical industry to name a few.

“Queen’s has a long history of supporting the technology transfer of novel technologies arising from research at Queen’s,” says Jim Banting, Assistant Vice-Principal (Partnerships and Innovation). “Queen’s researchers are providing new insights into, and innovative solutions for, humanity’s impact on our environment, and Dr. Jessop’s research is a perfect example of this. We congratulate GCC and the Forward Water Technologies teams on this financing.”

This investment is significant to FWT for two reasons. First, it unlocks a substantial government funding opportunity which was conditional on private financing.

Second, it positions Forward Water Technologies for its ultimate goal of commercial success. With commercial success could come a healthier future for everyone who drinks water, and a reduced environmental impact and financial cost of water purification.

“Commercializing this kind of research is much more expensive and time-consuming than products like a new pen or phone application, but the potential benefit to humanity and our environment is also much greater,” says Dr. Jessop. “I am delighted that the forward osmosis technology has taken one major step closer to becoming a commercial reality through these investments, and look forward to continuing to make the technology greener and more efficient.”

To learn more about the company, visit forwardwater.com.