National science award winner launches technology transfer company

Posted 14 November 2016

Two leading water treatment experts have launched a technology transfer company aiming to facilitate delivery of water research innovations to the sector.

ANU Emeritus Professor Barry Ninham – recent recipient of the Academy of Science’s Matthew Flinders Medal – and UNSW Canberra Professor Richard Pashley have founded RENEWater, a company they hope will simplify the process of delivering new water technology to industry.

“We’ve been dealing with university technology transfer companies for the last 40 years; we have a lot of experience with them. The University of New South Wales strongly supports the adoption of a model that we hope will work better,” Ninham said.

“UNSW will take up the initial patents, and then hand [the technology] over to RENEWater and we’ll work together from there. We are trying to do something worldwide to apply some extraordinary new solutions to problems with water in developing countries.

“We want to get our own inventions out into the world, whether it’s developing countries or Aboriginal communities, or for desalination, clean water or pollution from heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury.”

While the initial technologies focus on water treatment innovations, the plan is to implement a wider variety of technologies in energy and water aimed at solving 21st-century problems, Pashley said.

“This is not just a flash in the pan sort of company, where we sell our technologies and then walk away,” Pashley said.

“We have set up a company that uses the resources that we have. And by resources I mean the smart, young PhD students who want to get involved in implementing these advances.

“After many years, we have made some real, affordable progress and hope this company can contribute to the key issues facing mankind moving forward.”

Ninham and Pashley currently have five water treatment and energy technologies under patent with RENEWater, including innovations in desalination, water purification and heavy-metal water treatment.

The desalination technology aims to provide remote communities with a simplified, cost-effective alternative to reverse osmosis.

“We have Aboriginal communities right across the country that have big problems with water. There’s been a 10-year program trialling standard desalination with reverse osmosis, but it’s a technology that’s too expensive and involves moving parts and communities have difficulty repairing faults,” Ninham said.

“We are hoping to be able to build plants in remote communities that can be looked after locally and won't be reliant on companies flying in and flying out.”

Pashley said finding alternatives to reverse osmosis for desalination will be an important step in facing a variety of current and next-generation water treatment challenges.

“Reverse osmosis is one of those things that has basically reached its limit with technology; there isn’t much more that can be advanced with how it works,” Pashley said. 

Have your say on the Australian Water Association’s publications by completing the reader survey and you could win an iPad Mini. Click here for the survey.