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Outlook 2023: Amherst water treatment startup Elateq moving forward with PepsiCo contracting to use its high

Nov 25, 2023

AMHERST – Roderick Anderson compares his company’s water treatment to the difference between a cell phone and a rotary phone.

Instead of having a water treatment system with multiple steps, Elateq’s does everything together in one system that also saves energy, water and money.

“It is an all-in-one treatment,” said Anderson, chief executive officer of Elateq. “You don’t need harsh chemicals to clean, you don’t need high-pressure pumps so it reduces your energy costs.”

Anderson and his partner Ljiljana Rajic, the chief science officer, incorporated their company which makes high-tech, low-energy water filtration systems in March 2020. Despite starting the business at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company is now going gangbusters, he said.

The town of Amherst was the first client for Elateq, hiring the company to use its system as a pretreatment to remove heavy metals from groundwater that are causing corrosion in their pumping station. The system, which is tentatively slated to be installed in the summer, will also use solar power to treat thousands of gallons of water a day.

Now the company is essentially jumping in with both feet after PepsiCo., the second largest food and beverage company worldwide, launched its green initiative and hired Elateq to install its unique filtration systems at all the multinational company’s plants.

“We are the only water treatment company they selected,” he said. “It is a huge opportunity. We are very excited but it took eight or nine months of a grueling vetting process to get to this stage.”

While most think of PepsiCo. as the maker of the signature soda, the company also makes all kinds of other beverages and snack food and creates plenty of wastewater as a consequence, Anderson said.

“We will be turning wastewater into potable water in all of their manufacturing plants all over the world,” he said.

Trials of the water treatment and recovery system will begin at PepsiCo.’s plants in the United States in the spring. After that PepsiCo. will start adding Elateq’s modular units to plants in the United States and Europe and recently added India to its contract, Anderson said.

“Elateq’s all-in-one water treatment unit enables PepsiCo to remove pathogens, organic and inorganic contaminants, metals and other materials in water using less energy while recovering more water,” according to a statement from the water filtration company.

The contract means Elateq will have to grow fairly quickly in a short period of time. “It’s quite an exciting time,” Anderson said.

Elateq, which is now located in the Life Sciences Building at the University of Massachusetts, is planning to move to a vacant manufacturing building in Sunderland at the beginning of the year once final negotiations are completed.

Currently, there are three full-time and five part-time employees, but the staff is also expected to expand, starting with increasing part-time employees’ hours, Anderson said.

“I’m ex-military, Air Force, and I believe in concurrent planning so we are trying to bring extra engineers and technicians on board,” he said.

The idea for the company came together when Anderson and Rajic met at a conference at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. At the time Anderson had a visiting position teaching international studies at Trinity College, in Hartford, and was studying for his doctorate in anthropology and Rajic, who holds a Ph.D. and is one of the world leaders in electrochemistry, was running the labs at Northeastern University in Boston.

The two started talking about how they could collaborate and eventually decided they would make perfect partners with Anderson’s background in international economics and anthropology and Rajic’s experience in chemistry. Still, it took at least six years for them to get Elateq up and running, he said.

The company has a patent pending for the filtration system that uses low-level electricity and proprietary carbon material. “Simply put, multiple steps of contaminants removal happen within a single treatment unit as the contaminated water passes through leaving behind heavy metals, nutrients, pathogens, and toxic man-made chemicals,” a company statement said.

Traditional water treatment uses reverse osmosis, but that requires a lot of steps and a large amount of energy. Membranes have to be cleaned with harsh chemicals and replaced frequently The Elateq system does away with a lot of that in a one-step process eliminating the need for harsh chemicals and membranes. It uses 90% less energy and 80% savings on total operating costs compared to reverse osmosis, Anderson said.

The company started testing the system with the Amherst and South Hadley Department of Public Works for eight months It also worked with the Water, Energy and Technology Center at the University of Massachusetts, Anderson said.

It turned out starting the company during the pandemic actually served as a benefit. They started working with a large metal plating company out of Connecticut, which was mostly shut down because of COVID. The owners allowed Elateq to come in and test systems, he said.

“We ran every possible scenario under the harshest of conditions,” Anderson said. Metal plating creates a lot of “nasty water” and a lot of fumes so the system could really be put through the paces to see how well it worked.

Elateq is continuing to work with the company, which Anderson declined to name.

Elateq has also benefited from receiving multiple grants over the past few years to develop the technology and business. Some of them include a product development grant from FORGE, a Western Massachusetts nonprofit that works with startups, an InnovativeMass grant of $67,250 from the state’s Clean Energy Center and a National Science Foundation grant of $236,645. The work being done with Amherst is partially funded with the Clean Energy Center Grant, he said.

The company is a participant in the collaborative Western Ma Founders Network, which is a program within the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts.

As word is getting out, there has been increased interest in Elateq’s technology and systems, especially among cities and towns trying to find better and less expensive ways to treat water and wastewater, Anderson said.

“We have had a number of municipalities reach out to us but right now we are focusing on our execution with Pepsi,” he said. “We won’t want to bite off more than we can handle.”

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