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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Academics & Research

Water filter student startup creates big WAVVE


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Associate professor Debora Rodrigues was recognized for her work in clean energy in May and was given the C3E Research Award. | Courtesy of Debora Rodrigues

Five variations of the word “water” and four former Bauer College of Business students blend to create a company with a great cause.

The purpose of WAVVE, which stands for Water, Agua, Vatten, Voda, Eau, is patenting technologies that filter a crucial resource to society.

“We believe that clean, safe water is a fundamental right for every person around the world,” said WAVVE’s CEO Eric Beydoun.

Clear goals

When Beydoun was a student, he and four classmates were given a project to prove the marketability of one of UH’s many patents. The group decided to focus their project on a water filter made from shrimp shells.

“WAVVE Stream produces a cost-effective and sustainable gel made from shrimp shells that efficiently recovers nutrients (like harmful phosphates and nitrates) from water,” Beydoun said.

Associate professor Debora Rodrigues discovered the technology in 2011 when she was an assistant professor of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the Cullen College of Engineering. WAVVE Stream Inc. was officially incorporated in April 2014, but over time WAVVE’s five original founders dwindled to just Beydoun.

Beydoun said the rest of his group moved on to other projects and passions. Today, the core team behind WAVVE Stream includes Beydoun, business developer Raghav Ramabadran, post-doctoral UH fellow Enrico Nadres and chemical engineer Pavan Raja.

“The key word here is we’re not removing, we’re recovering,” Beydoun said. “That means that because it’s made of shrimp shells, at the end of the life of the gel it can biodegrade and become fertilizer itself.”

The startup’s end goal is to have water filters in households around the world. Beydoun said the company intends to promote their products in the industrial heavy metal market.

Beydoun said that since heavy metals are not biodegradable, there is no “circular economy.” There’s no sustainability because the filters that remove the chrome still have to be disposed by waste management companies.

Even so, Beydoun said the markets are consistently pivoting.

Although WAVVE is still in testing phase because they’re still producing in the University’s labs, they’ve been testing their products in chromium plating plants.

Stirring for change

However, the company can’t sell the gel yet.

“They are still in the phase of getting the money,” Rodrigues said. “They are still exploring their markets, and seeing who would be interested. WAVVE Stream is still in the testing phase for the water filters and have not ramped up production for commercialization.”

Rodrigues is involved with the group by helping them apply for various grants to fund her research and development.

“I think we can all contribute to the changing of the world,” Rodrigues said. “I don’t think I can change the world, but I can help with small steps.”

One of her students, chemical engineering sophomore Brittany Trinh, conducts experiments and collects and analyzes data to see how well Rodrigues’ filters work. Trinh had not planned on continuing her education past a bachelor’s degree before she researched with Rodrigues, but now she is planning to pursue a doctorate.

“My favorite aspect of the research I am doing is seeing the results,” Trinh said. “The color of the water changes in front of me.”

Beydoun said WAVVE’s work is a game changer because no other company they encounter at conferences produces biodegradable water filters with shrimp shells.

“I think I’m contributing to society just by education and training and research, and supporting and helping my students to reach their dreams and their goals as much as I can,” Rodrigues said. “I think all of us contribute to that.”

WAVVE plans to scale up in 2017 to have their first sale.

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