BTI Research is Genesis for New
Water Treatment Business Venture
Technology based on collaborative research by the BioTechnology Institute's Michael Sadowsky and Lawrence Wackett will be the basis of a new product being developed by two recent graduates of the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering. Joe Mullenbach and Alex Johansson are licensing the technology from the University of Minnesota to develop a new type of filter for municipal drinking water systems through their NewWater start-up business venture.
The licensed technology consists of three patents for producing bacterial enzymes capable of breaking down atrazine, a widely used herbicide which can enter water supplies from agricultural runoff following heavy rains. NewWater is working to develop a prototype for a filter that can be used in municipal water treatment systems to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for allowable atrazine levels in drinking water.
The technology for bacterial degradation of atrazine was first developed through collaborative research by professors Sadowsky and Wackett that studied how bacteria degrade atrazine naturally. This knowledge was used to carry out an environmental clean up of a herbicide soil spill in South Dakota in 1998. By utilizing an enzyme catalyst to initiate bacterial metabolism of atrazine, herbicide levels were greatly diminished. The NewWater filter will deploy this technology in a new arena - water treatment.
"We will actually break the atrazine molecules apart, whereas current treatments just capture them," explained Joe Mullenbach in describing how the new enzyme-based filter will differ from current activated carbon filters that absorb organic compounds for later disposal. "We're developing a commercially viable product that addresses this issue."
The idea to pursue new product development based on licensing basic University research came to Mullenbach and Johansson during an entrepreneurship class they were taking at the Carlson School of Management last spring. After seeing a presentation on the research conducted by professors Sadowsky and Wackett, they thought the technology was especially innovative and wrote up a business plan for a company that would deploy it in a new application.
"We started out seeing it as a good exercise for class," said Johansson. "Then we saw the opportunity."