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Wasteocene: «extracting water from waste should be made a priority». Matt Boczkowski, Aquaporin

Ninety-nine percent of the world population has PFASs in their bodies from polluted drinking water. Improving water filtration can help regain consumer trust and reduce plastic waste

Water pollution and consumers trust

Statistics show that Forty percent of Americans do not trust their tap water enough to drink it. Although in Europe the figure is lower, a general mistrust is still registered. Seventy percent of the planet surface is water. However only two point five percent of it is fresh drinking water, and less than one percent is easily accessible. Bottled-water production and sales are increasing, raising the amount of plastic to dismantle – and thus pollution. In 2020 more than fifty-six billion liters of bottled water were purchased in the United States. 

Mistrust in drinking water has been supported in recent years by reasonable doubts towards the quality of tap water. Cases of large companies polluting water sources to dispose of their waste multiplied across Europe and the US in the past decades. Flint is probably the most notorious American case. In order to save money, the municipality ended up polluting drinking water for the community. This caused diseases and deaths among the population. Today we know that chemicals pollutants and microplastics cause severe damages to human health. Often found both in fresh and saltwater.

PFASs in drinking water: a danger to human health 

Among the most dangerous are so-called PFASs, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. PFASs contain carbon-fluorine bonds that are among the strongest in organic chemistry. It is because of this bond that they are widely used in a number of industries. From fashion, to kitchen equipment to pharma and cosmetology. They allow to make surfaces or textiles water, fat and heat resistant, besides having surfactant properties. The majority of industries do not dispose of water containing PFASs correctly and they end up in the food chain. A 2016 study proved that it takes ten to fifty-six years for a human kidney to eliminate PFASs.  

Aquaporin and Wasteocene: an era defined by waste

According to Matt Boczkowski, CEO of Aquaporin «80% of all industrial wastewater on a global scale is released to the environment without adequate treatment. This is an ecological disaster happening in slow motion». One more issue comes from a generally inadequate aquifer infrastructure. «Our water infrastructure is unable to keep up with population growth; many people in the world don’t have access to clean drinking water». Even when access to water is granted, it is often not enough to cover the whole population. Or to provide a water that is guaranteed to be clean and safe to drink.

This is tightly linked to the human production of waste and pollution. «Ninety-nine percent of the world population has PFAS in their bodies coming from polluted drinking water». In 2017 Environmental historian Marco Armiero coined a new term to describe the age we are living. After the Anthropocene, he suggest, we now find ourselves immersed in the Wasteocene. An era defined by the unjustifiable amount of waste we have produced since the industrial revolution and keep producing daily. For a long time, humans thought they could produce waste without any consequences. However this belief has been overturned by science.

Water filters: a solution to clean water and regain trust

We spoke to Aquaporin CEO. The company is providing a solution to improve water access and quality: filters. All aquaporin filters are based on the Aquaporin Inside® technology, which is then tailored to customers needs. From industries to homes. Their activities are not limited to planet earth. By completing tests at NASA they have proven to be able to extract potable water from body fluids in space.

As Boczkowski explained, «the idea behind Aquaporin originated from Nobel Prize winning science. Professor Peter Agre was awarded the Nobel prize in 2003 for the discovery of the water channel in living cells, the aquaporin protein». Learning from nature and the human body, Aquaporin defines its technology as «an innovative water filtration technology, 3.8 billion years in the making». The method for making an Aquaporin Inside® filter starts by producing the aquaporin protein in a fermentation process, followed by a purification process.

Aquaporin Inside® formulation

The aquaporin protein gets incorporated into the Aquaporin Inside® formulation. The third step is to cast the support membrane. The casted membrane is then coated with the Aquaporin Inside® formulation. In combination with more classical membrane chemistry, in the end the Aquaporin Inside® membranes is incorporated into industrial standard form factors. This way the technology is easy to adapt and incorporate into larger water treatment solutions. «In the end you have Reverse Osmosis and Forward Osmosis membranes and systems that are leveraging Nature’s own water filters in an industrial scale».

Explained in a simpler way by Boczkowski: «Membrane filtration is not that different from what you see with a standard coffee filter. In both cases you use a synthetic layer to separate impurities. By incorporating the Aquaporin inside formulation, we create ‘super coffee filters’. With a bit of nature built-in that allows filtering anything, from wastewater, to juices, to even turning an astronaut’s urine into drinking water». To give an idea of the filtering power of the protein that is already in our body, one gram of aquaporins can filter 700 liters per second. It seems like a solid mechanism to learn from. 

LAMPOON, For process water Aquaporin uses reverse osmosis and for wastewater forward osmosis – both membrane-based technologies
For process water Aquaporin uses reverse osmosis and for wastewater forward osmosis – both membrane-based technologies

Nature-based solutions: innovation is in our DNA

The discipline of looking at how nature does things and copying it is called biomimicry: «biomimicry is a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies found in nature to solve human design challenges». In the field of sustainability this means respecting the planet in the purest form, by getting humans to solve problems and create innovation the same way the natural world does.

As Boczkowski explains, «when we look for long term sustainability, nature is a good place to start. Since the beginning of time, nature has solved its problems with well-adapted designs, life-friendly chemistry, and smart material and energy use». Water, as the fundamental element for life, is a good example: «aquaporin proteins filter water in all living organisms. It is actually the process that filters most water on earth today, but few people know it as it is hidden in nature». It often comes easier to invent new things than look inside and observe what is already there.

The Age of Living Machines

Analyzing internal processes is easy enough – the real challenge comes from getting inspired and creating industrial products from what has been observed: «we can often observe how things occur in nature, it is a totally different challenge to borrow this and industrialize this. An example of where this has been happening, besides at Aquaporin, is in the food industry. There are many companies working on plant-based or protein-based foods that are made in sustainable ways, aiming to decrease our society’s reliance on current agriculture and feedstocks».

In her book The Age of Living Machines Susan Hockfield explores a series of examples from a variety of industries to show how human problems can be solved with human and respectful solutions. The technology offered by our bodies and the world around us are often more sophisticated than we tend to give them credit for. In the case of Aquaporin, the outcome is also energy efficient and decreases carbon footprint: producing drinking water with a water purifier in your home has a carbon footprint Seventy times lower than drinking bottled water. 

The need for brave political choices: water is undervalued

According to Boczkowski, «we have the technologies to solve these challenges. We need to prioritize water and implement them». If we are to meet our goals for a healthier planet and population in the medium/long term, we need to start acting immediately and at all levels. Both in terms of innovation and of sociopolitical change. «Political action and legislation securing that wastewater cannot be released into the environment is essential. This is to make sure that industrial wastewater is not polluting our environment. In addition, these regulations should be enforced in a fairly rigorous way if we want them to make a difference».

Achieving circularity and a proficient waste management is also key. «in many cases wastewater could be viewed as a resource instead of being seen as waste. This comes at a cost, but quite often resources could be recovered from wastewater if the profitability equation made sense. It would be great if we had the necessary policies and practices in place so that extracting resources from waste was made a priority before new and fresh resources were exploited»

Aquaporin 

Founded in 2005 after the idea of Nobel Prize winning science, where Professor Peter Agre was awarded the Nobel prize in 2003 for the discovery of the water channel in living cells, the aquaporin protein. In 2014 Aquaporin was awarded the European Inventor Award; as the most innovative SME in Europe by the European Patent Office in Munich, Germany. Aquaporin Inside® technology creates water filters based on aquaporins. 

Matilde Moro

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore Hemp production in Italy
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for more info, please email us

check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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