Liqum’s Strategy For Water Quality

Posted on September 21st, 2011 by

Tommi Uhari, CEO of Liqum, discusses at the GCCA California Cleantech Collaboration, how his company is tackling some of the world’s water quality problems.

Full Transcript:

Ben Lack: I’m with Tommi Uhari from LIQUM.  Thanks so much for being with us today.
Tommi Uhari:  Thanks, Ben.
Ben Lack:  I would like to start our conversation off by having you just tell us a little bit about who you guys are?  What do you guys do?  Where you guys from?  Who are your customers?
Tommi Uhari:  We are a company who is kind of trying to solve a problem of continuous water quality assurance, so we’ve seen a problem in the way that most of the portable water is monitored in the world today.  First of all, in the Western World, all of the water is monitored.  There is kind of a sampling programs, you know samples are taken at daycare or schools or kind of… according to different regulations in different countries.  They are shipped off to a laboratory and then the water is tested.  The dilemma with this approach is that the results are always available after the water has been consumed.  The only early warning system that most water companies have in place for whether the water that people are drinking is not of sufficient quality is that the people are calling the water company and complaining about some stomachache or other things like.  We have developed a realtime solution that basically is a probe, the size of this water bottle, that basically is connected to the water by applying.  It measures the change in the water quality.  Basically, if the water company knows that there is a certain time that the water quality is good, if there is a significant enough deviation to that, our system will send off an alarm, and the water company can take appropriate action.  What we advocate is the philosophy of moving from time or sample-based system to a continuous monitoring solution that can give an earlier warning and can also kind of, in some cases, reduce the need for sample taking.
Ben Lack:  There are a lot of different elements that could impact if water is good or bad or harmful or not harmful.
Tommi Uhari: That’s right.
Ben Lack:  How does your system figure out what the issue is?  What is it actually capturing, as far as data is concerned, in a realtime format?
Tommi Uhari:  Our system is based on a measurement of electrochemistry.  It’s kind of complicated.  It’s a neural network calculation of like what’s the overall iron consistency in the water?  This does not find all the possible contaminants, but it is pretty good for a wide range and it is very sensitive.  The system is very robust.  It runs off a battery depending on the frequency of the measurement for 1-3 years, so lets say it detects many changes in the water quality and it can give you an indication that you really need to take a sample and better analyze it what exactly is the consistency change in the water.  Our system does not tell you the exact change, but it tells you that there is a change and then you should do something about it.  It’s like having a fire alarm in the house.
Ben Lack:  So is there a one size fits all probe? Or are there probes that are sized based on the size of the pipe?
Tommi Uhari:  Basically, the probes are one physical size, and they can be either fitted directly into a pipe, or there can be a kind of side flow out of the pipe and the probes fitted into that.  Then, for different applications, we have a kind of way to select the electrode material, so that they are more sensitive to certain substances.  We have developed a couple of specific solutions for that depending on the type of area that our customers are targeting.  I would say the most popular solution that we have is the clean water probe that is kind of usable either, let say, if you were doing a bottled beverage like source water, or if you are trying to monitor how is the production process that you are running to create portable tap water; how’s that working?
Ben Lack:  As somebody that’s an expert in water sustainability, can you share with us some of your thoughts on where you see the differences and how the different parts of the world are tackling water problems?  The issues happening in Europe are much different than some of the issues that are going on in Asia or in the States, so how do you guys as an international company handle the differences?  What are those differences?
Tommi Uhari:  Basically what we see is that there is an underlying issue that is the same all over the world, and it is the fact that with increasing population we are kind of using the world’s resources more and water is one of those resources.  In any area where the population density is growing or industry is growing or agriculture is growing, we are basically using more water than we have used before.  What we see is that the water resources capability to replenish themselves is becoming more and more limited.  United Nations has coined a term called, The Water Safety Plan and it means that basically instead of only measuring the water at its consumption point, you try to figure out that in each water case like what’s the best upstream method for controlling the water quality and that’s what we advocate- that you should measure the point of consumption, but you should understand the process for creating the water in that case and go upstream there.  We see that this phenomenon is actually the same all over the world.  There are some problems that we see in parts of the developing market where, let say, the water distribution pipeline can be the weak link of the system, and there, let say, it’s difficult to find solutions, without kind of working on the distribution system itself, but if your distribution system is in shape or in good enough shape, water quality monitoring can help you in the right way to allocate your investments and in providing better water quality for your customers.
Ben Lack: So, I’m a potential customer and you come to me and you say that you saved me on the lag time between finding out when a problem is actually occurring.  You will provide that to me on a realtime basis, so that we can be more proactive in identifying or addressing the issue.  Give me a quantifiable reason on why that matters to me?  How do I make the business case to the decision maker or for you to a potential customer that really finally gets them to say, okay we need to incorporate LIQUM technology into what we are doing on a daily basis.
Tommi Uhari:  Yeah, so we see too many cases.  First of all, the people who are already providing drinking water for consumers.  Here, let say, the LIQUM Technology provides an additional early warning system and an alarm into possible changes in the way that you create water and let say you probably want to know as quickly as something has changed, so that it’s usually better.  That is what many of the water plant managers tell us that this system helps them sleep better at night because they know that this is an additional stop gap for any issue that they see.  Then, the industrial applications where our solution can be used, it can be used for clean water control, but in reality our technology works for controlling most liquids.  We have had customers, lets say, in the paper or in the mining industry that they benefit from using our system that are measurable in the millions of dollars.
Ben Lack:  Wow.
Tommi Uhari:  But those can be cases where either the customer was not in control of the process without measurement equipment before and our solution because it’s robust, battery operated, but still sensitive.  It can provide answers to questions that they did not have for controlling their process before.
Ben Lack:  So Tommi, talk to me about why you’re playing in this space.  Why have you decided to spend this stage of your career on these issues and with this company?  Why does this industry interest you?
Tommi Uhari:  It’s a quite personal question.  I started my career making mobile phones and that I was looking back at my career and thinking that one of the times I was most enjoying my life was when there was a kind of big growth in that business going on.  The most exciting thing I saw at that time was that we were able to provide mobile phones for people who had not had means to communicate like wire telephone before, so I thought that, that was meaningful.  It sounds quite ambitious, but helping people lead a better life I felt satisfaction in that, and I think now in LIQUM and this ability to assure people of water quality, there is potential of kind of doing something that is important.  The business aspect can be interesting, but let say, for me, being able to do both, that gives me satisfaction.
Ben Lack:  Before we let you go, is there anything else that you want to say?
Tommi Uhari:  We believe that LIQUM what we are kind of doing is trying to change the way that people think about water quality monitoring, and we are trying to move to a realtime system and provide really a number of different measurement points around the world.  We believe that there are other companies who are doing that and, overall, we have a vision that together we can create a network of measurement points and overall transparency into one of the most important natural resources on earth, which is clean water.  We believe that let say being part of that mission is going to be exciting for us and all our partners.
Ben Lack:  Tommi, thanks so much for being with us today.  I really appreciate it.  Much continued success for you, and I look forward to staying in touch.

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