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  • Jacob Bourne

Epic Cleantec Dives into a Water Reuse Revolution

Although climate change is driving an overall wetter atmosphere, it’s also pushing historically drought-prone regions like the US West, Middle East and parts of Africa toward arid extremes. The resulting decline in potable water supplies is driving the use of desalination plants to tap into the planet’s abundance of saltwater sources to meet demand. The problem is that desalination plants are very energy-intensive, potentially raising carbon emissions. They also create a brine, leading to unoxygenated dead zones in the oceans.

Lake Mead, drought
Low water levels at Lake Mead. Credit: Kunal Mehta/Shutterstock

One start-up, Epic Cleantec, is working on more sustainable alternatives for securing water resources amid increasing scarcity. The San Francisco-based firm raised $9.4 million in December to accelerate the adoption of onsite water reuse technology in real estate projects in the U.S.

Epic’s approach involves a paradigm shift away from the concept of wastewater and towards a circular water management system. The large quantities of water that people routinely waste in any given building can be purified for reuse as non-potable resources for toilet flushing, irrigation, cooling, and laundry. Epic states that its system can help a building reuse up to 95% of its water, which would mean significant cost savings for building owners, and make a considerable dent in water scarcity if implemented at scale.

Additionally, the company’s systems can also convert wastewater into carbon-rich soil products as well as harvest heat from wastewater for onsite renewable energy.

“When it comes to how we design our water and wastewater infrastructure, we’ve essentially done things the same way for 200 years,” said Epic co-founder and CEO Aaron Tartakovsky. “Yet with the combined challenges of urban population growth, aging infrastructure, and climate change, the status quo simply won’t keep up. This additional funding will help us accelerate the mainstream adoption of water reuse and increase our ability to deploy our critical systems throughout the nation, and eventually around the world.”

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Epic Cleantec was first conceived as part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” and lists Crescent Heights, Stanford University, Imagine H2O, MassChallenge and LIFT as its partners. In a December press release, the company stated that it offers complimentary consultations to real estate developers, property owners, architects, contractors, engineers, and sustainability consultants.

“In the 21st century, we should not have to rely on whether or not it rains to know if we’ll have enough water for our communities,” said Oded Hermoni, General Partner at J-Ventures, one of Epic's leading funders. “With smart water infrastructure, we can predictably reuse and supply water where and when people need it. Epic is at the forefront of water innovation and will lead the way in building the sustainable, water-secure cities of the future.”

Epic’s reuse technology has potential to stem water scarcity issues if widely adopted. However, other technologies to generate drinking water in remote areas are also needed. For example, MIT and Shanghai Jiao University researchers developed a solar-powered desalination device that reportedly circumvents the brine issue and can provide a family with continuous drinking water for only $4.

Meanwhile, other technologies are emerging to collect water condensation to boost freshwater supplies more efficiently. For instance, a team of researchers at ETH Zurich developed a condenser system that can collect water from the air 24/7 without energy.


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