It’s a paradox for anyone working on the global water crisis: Water is infinitely recyclable, and yet we are running out of it.
Estimates suggest water demand could outstrip water supply as early as the year 2030.
“Forget low flush toilets and short showers, that’s not going to move the needle enough,” Bryan Eagle, a Memphis-based entrepreneur working in the sustainability space. There is an urgent need to figure out how to reuse water and create more water resilient solutions in agriculture, municipal, and industrial settings.
A growing number of entrepreneurs in the Southeast are taking on that challenge.
One such innovator is Jahanzeb (Jahn) Khan, MMA fighter turned Georgia Tech-trained engineer turned WaterTech entrepreneur.
Khan is the founder and CEO of 4Earth, and started the company to bring faster, more sustainable, and easy-to-use solutions to global water problems. His company develops modular and automated membrane-based water treatment systems using a “plug and play” implementation model.
Built inside modified shipping containers, the membrane system is designed to fit the treatment needs of the source water. The user-friendly design of both its hardware and software, Khan said, is one of 4Earth’s key differentiators and makes it easier to train plant operators. “People love simplicity and ease, so technology that is producing clean water should not be complicated to operate.”
As a startup looking to “design, engineer, manufacture, and operate the next generation of water treatment tech,” Khan said 4Earth’s goal is to also reduce the chemicals traditionally needed to treat water while finding more efficient use cases for places with limited water treatment infrastructure.
“In developed nations, we want to provide a more comprehensive, user-friendly solution that can be retrofitted into existing infrastructure to solve specific problems. For developing nations that don’t have that same infrastructure and lack access to clean water, we want to provide easier, faster and more off-grid solutions,” Khan told Hypepotamus.
4Earth is currently working on marketing, designing, and deploying projects in Central America, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.
Closer to home, 4Earth has an ongoing project in the City of Atlanta and will soon have a project at The Water Tower, a WaterTech innovation hub in Buford, Georgia, in the spring of 2022. This project will test out implementing Tesla Solar technology as a way to create fresh drinking water solutions without needing electricity. 4Earth is also collaborating with Siemens on this project.
Other team members include Gulzeb Khan, who is overseeing NFT and art initiatives to creatively fund upcoming overseas projects, lead product engineer Sreerag Suresh, electrical manufacturing director Bernard Ellis, and other engineers, manufacturers, and business operation personnel. Their company culture is: have fun, be kind and let’s get the job done.”
Moving into 2022, Khan said the team is focused on scaling the company up by raising a seed round, hiring more innovative and cool people, and creating more partnerships with Smart Cities and new developments around the globe.
Building WaterTech Solutions in the Southeast
For Bryan Eagle, CEO of Memphis-based Glanris, the Southeast’s rich agricultural scene is an asset in the water crisis fight.
The US “Rice Belt,” which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri, has long had a problem figuring out a sustainable use for its waste product, rice husks.
Glanris recognized that rice husks have unique water filtration properties, leading to the creation of its Biocarbon Media product.
The filter media naturally removes metals and organic contaminants from water, something that is essential for agricultural and manufacturing settings.
Since the product “sequesters carbon” and can be a “drop-in replacement” for current filtration options, Eagle says it is a sustainable solution for reusing rice husks and ultimately creating a better water filtration system.
Also has municipal and residential applications as sites look for more sustainable ways to purify drinking water.
The team most recently raised a $2 million funding round from Riceland Healthcare, Innova Memphis, Sage Group, and Pittco Capital Partners.
The Southeast is producing a growing list of water-focused startups, including Atlanta-based Emrgy and Aquagenuity.
The two female-founded startups are tackling two very different problems within the space – how to more efficiently deliver hydropower and how to make water quality data more accessible.
Up in the Research Triangle, Sue Mecham of NALA Systems is using reverse osmosis (RO) to create a more efficient water purification system.
In Kentucky, ElectraMet is developing a chemical-free water treatment solution specifically for the industrial wastewater space.
The region has also started to attract a few new startups in the WaterTech space. One is Kansas City’s Genesis Systems, which designs sustainable water solutions and reports to generate “fresh-water from air”, relocated to Tampa this fall, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Upwards of 330 Southeast-based companies are specifically building in the water purification and water resiliency space, according to data available on Crunchbase.