MN DEED Export Roundtable: Water Technology


I participated in the December meeting of the MN Deed Export Roundtable.  The event series is focused on developing the exports of Minnesota through education, networking, and support of the MN Trade Office.   Topics for each round table rotate through a variety of areas including technologies,  working with geographies, and global grand challenges and opportunities.  The 2015 December event was hosted at the Walter Library on the U of M East Bank Campus.   The focus was on Water technologies.   In attendance where corporations, scientists, entrepreneurs and exports forced on this sector.
The format for this particular event was to focus on emerging technologies and networking these innovation to the audience.  I wanted to highlight several of the technologies that were showcased and some of the conversation from the different stakeholders in the room in reaction to the innovations.
Several UMN professors showcased water filtration technologies.  One example was the global problem of mercury contamination of water sources.  The contamination enters the food supply through fish and beverages.   The impactful example that brought the urgency forward was rapid decline mental abilities of children when exposed to mercury.  (See handwriting images in gallery link below).  The case study in Japan also showed the financial impact to the corporate involved.   The company was fined $86M and the government is still paying over $100M annually for the ongoing treatment of the contamination and care for people impacted.  IQ decreases are attributed to over $8.7B lost in productivity of the workforce given current contamination levels.  Bring the problem back home, today lakes in Minneasota has over six times the minimum acceptable levels.   The university had developed nano technology to create sponges with Selenium.  The Selenium efficiency was the ability to filter from a 10ppm to .0004ppm (99.95%) with the added bonus that Selenium kills bacteria.  The sponge format was chosen as it increases surface area over 30 times from a single layer filter.  Compressibility of the sponge also made for high density disposability / space.  A single sponge, about the size of a simple dishwashing sponge, can clean up a medium size lake.   Removing all  the mercury from a medium size lake would be about the size a quarter of solid mercury.  They estimate this is a $10B dollar market and their solution is simple and cost effective approach.   Audience discussion explored other aspects of contamination, specifically pulling mercury out of the sediment layers.   Mercury is released over time to the water, but the sediment layer was not directly addressed by this technology.  Other solutions where also reveled and how new filtration methods can drastically change the economics of time, energy, and processes required compared to today’s methods.   Many methods had broad application, but could be configured to great specificity.   This created a challenge for commercialization by identifying the market needs and practice paths to commercial focused products that could be in high demand and use the profitability to further develop more specialized needs.
A another thread of presentations explored fluid dynamics and nano levels of managing flow, elasticity, velocity, etc.  The ability to have new methods of measuring and categorizing dynamics at that level is emerging.
A great deal of conversation focused on approaching commercialization through patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, etc.   The trade-offs for corporations was quite apparent when balanced against achieving a market leader position.   Other topics included exploration of export of technology/products early in the commercialization process and practices for building international partnerships.
See more of the event in the image gallery

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