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Water Today Title March 3, 2021

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Updated 2021/1/14
Water Filtration

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Interview with Peter Holme Jensen, CEO & Co-Founder of Aquaporin. The transciption below has been edited for clarity and length.

WT - Let's talk about the filters themselves now. So I get a filter or some sort of unit in a box, I take it out of the box, and if I run horribly contaminated water through that filter, I can drink the water? And it's a gravity fed system? Is that how it works?

Holme Jensen - We are developing four different types of membranes. Based on the Aquaporin Inside® technology and the platform technology, we can create and customize different types of rejection rates and different types of membranes. Today, we're working on four different models, one being a tap water, reverse osmosis membrane for drinking water applications like point-of-use systems for household drinking water. For this application, we have created a new generation of low pressure, reverse osmosis membranes that have been customized to a level where you get clean and safe, yet also healthy drinking water out of a point-of-use system.

If you look at the classical point-of-use systems today, you get safe drinking water, no doubt about it. But in many ways, you also get water that is too clean because all reverse osmosis membrane can get rid of bacteria and viruses and stuff like that, but in many ways, they take out too much of the minerals and the salt that the human body needs for it to be healthy. So, what we have done is we have made a membrane based on the Aquaporin Inside® technology that customizes the drinking water, that removes all bacteria, all viruses, all pesticides - we also believe that it takes out PFAS components which are becoming a growing issue in the US - but does not take out all the salts and minerals. We are only taking them out to the level where the World Health Organization estimates it to be healthy for human consumption. We can do that because we use the Aquaporin technology to tweak and customize the different layers of the membranes.

We are also developing our technology for a new generation of brackish water membranes and seawater membranes for desalination of seawater. But these, unlike the drinking water membranes, are not on the market yet. In this case, we are looking for more energy efficiency in the water treatment process because, again, as I mentioned previously, the big bottleneck in bringing new water treatments to Third World countries is that we need to be more energy efficient in the way that we treat the water. Otherwise, it will never be available for all of humankind.

The last type of membrane that we are developing based on the Aquaporin Inside® technology is taking it even a step closer to nature. Because here we are not only using Aquaporin Inside® technology, but we are also using osmosis as the driving force.

WT - Tell me a bit more about this. Everybody has heard of reverse osmosis, but that I know of, I haven't heard the term forward osmosis unless it's your company. Can you tell me a bit about that?

Holme Jensen - Yes, forward osmosis is a new type of membrane. I would say a handful of companies around the world are working on this type of membranes and we are one of them. Here instead of applying a hydrostatic pressure, forcing the water across the membrane like you do in a reverse osmosis membrane - hence the name reverse osmosis because you go against the osmotic gradient - in an osmotic or forward osmosis membrane, you use the osmotic pressure so you're not actually filtering the water, you are extracting the water.

You could say, it's just like in the roots of a tree. You don't have any pumps, you're not using reverse osmosis to get the water from the soil through the roots to the top of the tree, 30 metres up in the air. Nature only uses osmosis for that. And a forward osmosis membrane works the same way. You have an osmotic gradient in what you call the draw solution, then you have a selection membrane in the middle and then you have your feed water on the other side. And then instead of taking the pollutants out of the water, you're taking the water out of the feed water, leaving the pollutants behind.

And this allows you to start thinking about water treatment in a totally different context than a conventional reverse osmosis, where in many ways what you do is filter out the water and then make it to the level that you need.

Again, if you look at nature, you could say that water is a solvent in nature. No matter where you look at the water cycle in nature, water is never 100 percent pure, water is moved around from one aqueous solution to another solution to a third aqueous solution. But its real value in nature is that it's a solvent for a lot of organic compounds. You could say the same goes for forward osmosis because here you are extracting water from one aqueous source to another aqueous source, it doesn't mean that you end up with pure water, but it means that you can take the water and only the water from one aqueous source to another aqueous source. And I'll give you a fun example of that. This is what we are doing with NASA and ESA at the International Space Station right now, where we are in testing mode for using our forward osmosis membranes for implementing an entirely new way of reusing water for deep space exploration. What we do is we take our Aquaporin Inside® forward osmosis membrane and then we use it to extract water from urine and use it in the draw solution, in this case, a sugar and salt solution.

Essentially, you can call it a beverage or Coca-Cola concentrate and what you do in the process is that you extract the water by pure osmosis, no energy input is required apart from the osmotic. And you extract the water from the urine into the sugar solution. Then you end up with a diluted sugar solution, which you could essentially call a Coke on one side and concentrated morning urine on the other side. The astronauts can drink the water solution as a beverage. It's not pure water they're drinking, but a beverage where they have nutrients and water combined.

WT - I see from your website, and I haven't been able to confirm this anywhere else. You are doing leachate treatment with forward osmosis, which I think you just explained. Canada has hundreds of thousands, I would think, of wastewater lagoons. Could this technology that requires little or no power clean a lagoon? Do I have this even remotely close?

Holme Jensen - You can use the technology as an enabler for creating the intelligent solutions that would make it realistic to do these system solutions. But you also have to look at Aquaporin Inside® technology. It's a component around which you can develop intelligent system solutions.

One example of an intelligent system solution provider that utilizes the power of the Aquaporin Inside® technology is Forward Water. It's a Canadian startup company that we work with that has created a full system solution that could be used in processes like you describe; it is a combination of different technologies that includes the Aquaporin Inside® technology as one of the enablers. But with regards to the solutions, for these lagoons that you mention, it is important to say that while the Aquaporin Inside® is one new component that can close the technology gaps that have existed in many applications, you need the intelligent system solution providers to build the systems around it in order for it to work.

WT - A last question before I close this interview. If I'm a lady with two kids in Nigeria, does Aquaporin's technology allow me to drink clean drinking water? Do I have to plug this in? Does someone give me a box? Can I use this at the well and use a gravity feed just to clean my water?

Holme Jensen - It could potentially affect the lady directly in Nigeria. And here we must go back and talk about our Aquaporin Inside® point-of-use systems. We have an ongoing dialogue in the U.S. where we have created - I wouldn't say it's gravity-driven - but we have created an electrical-less point-of-use system that is only driven by the pressure from the waterpipe.

The water goes through four different types of technologies, the final one being Aquaporin Inside® technology. And then you get clean, safe and also healthy drinking water. If you can connect that to a pipe anywhere in the world where you have minimum water pressure of two bars, then it would solve the issue you are talking about. But it needs a minimum pressure of 2 bars for it to work.

WT - This has just been fascinating. Peter, I really appreciate you doing this. I'm just going to read my own credits here. OK, so I'd like to thank, Peter Holme, Jensen from Aquaporin Corporation for doing this, that's just a fabulous interview and we'll be doing many follow ups; I'd like to thank Kristin from Aquaporin. She was very patient. We moved this several times and, I also screwed up the time zones. So hats off to her for doing this. And I'd like to thank Gillian from knrc.ca, the recording engineer on this program. This has been a WaterToday production. Thanks for doing this. Have a nice day.

Holme Jensen - Thank you.


Danish company, Aquaporin, uses nature's life giving aquaporin protein to create biomimetic water filtration systems - Part 1

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