Energy-efficient wastewater recovery
Today, we are proud to announce co-leading, with Novo Holdings, an oversubscribed $17 million Series A1 investment in Aquafortus, whose technology purifies high-salinity brines while extracting valuable minerals and metals in the process.
Aquafortus solves the pressing, global problem of what to do with all the salty wastewater produced by industry. The company’s brine desalination technology employs a non-thermal, zero-liquid-discharge process that uses 90% less energy, costs 60% less, and turns 98% of high salinity brine into fresh water. Any one of these improvements would transform water purification: delivering all three is a Deep Tech breakthrough.
But more exciting and valuable than the wastewater treatment and water recovery itself is the capacity of Aquafortus’s technology to expose, isolate, and extract valuable metals and minerals from the brine. The company targets industries ripe for this kind of dual benefit: mining, oil and gas production, chemical manufacturing, and power generation.
At DCVC, we support companies using computational advances to solve hard, real-world, trillion-dollar problems in industries that have resisted change. In many cases, the issue being addressed is as obvious as its solution is elusive.
Until now, brine desalination has been prohibitively expensive for many industrial wastewater applications. Membrane filtration cannot treat heavy brines, and thermal-based evaporation, the most common technology today, is small-scale, energy-intensive, and requires high-cost materials of construction. Aquafortus’s solution, ABX™, breaks the paradigm of membrane filtration and thermal evaporation by adapting a concept used widely in other industries, such as pharmaceutical manufacturing: solvent extraction. Aquafortus’s innovation leverages paired absorbent-regenerant chemistries that remove water from the brine stream (absorbent) and recover the fresh water as well as the absorbent for reuse (regenerant).
Today, the world generates enough hypersaline wastewater to fill three Lake Meads every year. Pumping all that produced water back into the ground or oceans is ecologically disastrous, but also shortsighted: the brine contains lithium, copper, magnesium salts, and other metals and minerals, which would otherwise have to be mined in difficult, dirty, and dangerous ways.
As a firm, we see great promise in companies poised to create an economic imperative for industries to embrace more sustainable practices. Much of the world now suffers long-term, unprecedented droughts and loss of water, while simultaneously facing a shortage of essential metals to help bridge the energy transition. Aquafortus provides energy and chemical companies two reasons to purify their wastewater. Across the firm, we are looking for these kinds of opportunities: venture-scale businesses with brilliant teams tackling old problems that previously seemed intractable.
DCVC is pleased to continue to back Daryl Briggs, Aquafortus’s CEO and cofounder, and Jessica Lam, the company’s Chief Operations Officer and cofounder, and to support Aquafortus as it scales its technology into a global solution and grows its commercial operations in the United States and beyond. We’ve been behind Aquafortus from its founding in New Zealand in 2015, because it is turning catastrophe into opportunity. We were joined in this round by Universal Materials Incubator, Intrepid Financial Partners, Envisioning Partners, Burnt Island Ventures, K1W1 and NZGCP.
Aquafortus is doing something essential: cleaning the harshest wastewater affordably and scooping up much needed resources along the way. This is exceptional not only for what it gives the world, but also for what it prevents.
Jason Pontin is a Partner at DCVC, and Earl Jones is an Operating Partner at DCVC.