with 🎙️ Aaron Tartakovsky, CEO and Co-Founder of Epic Cleantec
💧 Epic Cleantec offers end-to-end service for the design, engineering, permitting, installation, and ongoing operations of onsite water reuse systems.
What we covered:
🍎 How Water and Wastewater management has not changed much over the past two centuries
🍎 Hot the centralized water management approach may suffer from the increased loads if 70% of Humanity is to live in cities by 2050
🍏 How the Energy Sector can (again) be used as a guideline towards the Water Sector’s future
🧮 How up to 95% of a building’s water use can be covered with recycled water sources and onsite water reuse
🍏 How the byproducts of water in wastewater can provide tremendous value
🍏 How cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Austin lead the pack, with onsite water reuse regulations
🌱 How distributed water management will dramatically enhance the system’s resilience by reducing interdependencies
🍏 How there’s a last frontier to break: overcoming the “Yuck” factor – and how to do so
🤔 How Epic Cleantec addresses and discusses the problem more than the solution in their marketing – and why
🧮 How they actually treat the wastewater in buildings – and what’s inside their “black box.”
🍏 How Epic’s system is deployed in a 20 story office in San Jose – and what this onsite water reuse enables
🍏 How “one size fits all” simply never applies in the Water Industry – and how Epic Cleantec deals with this
🧮 Business Model, GoTo Market routes, the secret to success as a disruptive start-up, Accumulating (well-deserved) Awards… and much more!
🔥 … and of course, we concluded with the 𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 🔥
Teaser: Onsite Water Reuse
🔗 Have a look at Epic Cleantec’s website
🔗 Come say hi to Aaron on Linkedin
is on Linkedin ➡️
Infographic: Onsite Water ReuseOnsite-Water-Reuse-Epic-Cleantec-Aaron-Tartakovsky-Infographic
Quotes: Onsite Water ReuseSquare-Quotes-Aaron-Tartakovsky-Onsite-Water-Reuse-Epic-Cleantec
These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂
Get Season 2's Summary!
Antoine Walter: So, hi, Aaron, welcome to the show.
Aaron Tartakovsky: Thank you very much. I’m honored to be here with you.
Antoine Walter: Let’s start with good old traditions, especially with the fact that you were in quite a fancy place from my European eyes. Can you send me a postcard from the place you are right now? And what would you tell me about San Francisco, right?
That they would ignore.
Aaron Tartakovsky: Ooh, that’s a good question. Yeah. I’m born and raised here, which in the tech era is increasingly rare to have people who are actually born and raised in San Francisco and still live in San Francisco. But you know what I’ll say, that I find so interesting about San Francisco is that it’s a city that is always changing.
You know, there’s so much going on right now with tech, we have autonomous cars, we have robots on the driveways. We have robots on the sidewalks. We have drones flying all around. And I think a lot of people are constant saying it’s changing so quick, but we are a city that has always been changing. We’re always going to be changing.
And I think that’s what makes it a lot of fun ever since, you know, the gold rush days and before. So I would say as much as San Francisco seems like it’s going through a big period of change now, that’s, that’s actually in our DNA.
Antoine Walter: A bit between the born and raised element and the future. So we will be talking about the future in just a second with your venture and the fascinating things you’re doing at Epping Cleantech, but in between, I’d like to go back a bit in time, just right before you started epic Cleantech.
Cause I’d like to understand your path and how you came to. The point where you said, oh, there’s something out there I can solve and actually solving it involves creating my company and the family business if I got it. Right. So, so what’s the story around that foundation stone and founding elements?
Aaron Tartakovsky: Yes.
So epic was actually founded out of initial work with the bill and Melinda gates foundations reinvent the toilet challenge. The true story. Is that my co-founder oh, dead was walking down the streets of Tel Aviv one day with his little pug dog named Paulie Paulie. Did his business on the sidewalk as dogs do.
Uh, oh, dad was on the phone, not paying attention. Didn’t clean up after his dog, just then a police officer came driving by sees this and writes him up a fine him being the fiery tempered Israeli entrepreneur that he is. Rather than just paying the fine and moving on with his life decided that he was going to come up with a 21st century solution to clean up after dogs.
So not necessarily the most pressing world challenge of the day, but it challenged him the less in working with his friend, a professor at Hebrew university, they devised a device. So essentially a hype. What we call an English, a pooper scooper device. So basically a device that can pick up the waste and transform it into something usable.
So they formulated a chemical, a chemical reaction that when they dosed the organic waste with this chemical created a quick exothermic reaction. Which means it very quickly moved it from a wet smelly waste into a dry odorless pathogen free substance, which after testing turned out to be good for plants, what we have learned and what I’m sure you’ve seen as well is that one of the occupational hazards of working in wastewater is that we all basically devolve into our inner middle-schooler.
We start making jokes and puns about the nature of this work. So of course this device got the attention of the internet. My co founders were then approached by the bill and Melinda gates foundation, who at the time were running the reinvent, the toilet challenge. And they said, look, take what you’re doing for a dog and scale it up into a toilet application.
And for those who aren’t familiar, the premise of the reinvent, the toilet challenge to look at the roughly three and a half billion people worldwide who don’t have access to reliable sanity. So how do we create solutions that aren’t necessarily reliant on a big centralized infrastructure of pipes and facilities, but instead are above ground are distributed and easy to deploy.
So my partners took what their innovations on a dog product scaled it up to the gates foundation, single toilet application. They were then presenting at a conference in California, where in the audience that they was my third co-founder Igor Igor, who also happens to be my. My father eager was trained in aerospace science and the Soviet union then moved to this country as a political refugee, moved into the building sciences and said, I wonder if we can take what these guys are doing for single toilets and scale it up into a building application that was seven years ago.
A lot has changed from those early days, but the fundamental. Focus of epic clean deck remains. You know, if we take a look at how we design our cities today, when it comes to water and wastewater, we really haven’t changed much in about 200 years, which is to say we, we are almost solely reliant on the centralized model of large facilities and large networks of underground pipes.
And it’s great. And it’s a Marvel of modern engineering. We need to fix it. It needs to be maintained. And frankly, we are not doing those two things as quickly as we need to be doing. So if we look at 70% of the world’s population living in cities by 2050, we can either build back the exact same way. Or we have a moment right now in history where we can kind of rethink.
And re-engineer how we’re designing our cities when it comes to water and wastewater. So that brings
Antoine Walter: us straight into a deep dive because what I get in, what you explain right here is that you’re taking on utilities. You’re really saying that is how it was done in the nineteens, uh, 19th centuries and so far.
And so on. If I’m being a bit, a bit extreme, of course, and the fresh steak is going to be decentralized. Do you really believe you can one-to-one replace it or is it going to be two systems that co-exist what is your vision there?
Aaron Tartakovsky: Yeah, no, it’s a really good point. I’m glad that you brought it up. We do not at all see ourselves as taking on utilities.
We actually think it’s exactly. To what you just said. It is us coexisting. We see ourselves as effectively extensions of a city’s municipal operations. So I think, you know, the, the analogy we like to look at is, you know, look at the energy world. We need a mix of different energy generation. We need the centralized folks doing the large plants, but we also need distributed.
And I think frankly, diversifying how we get our energy makes our systems a lot more resilient, you know, look at what happened to Texas. You know, and when we had our last winter storms where a lot of the grid went down, because it was all sort of focused on centralized infrastructure, or even look at California where a lot of these fires are caused by our central centralized energy infrastructure.
That’s not being maintained fast enough. And it’s leading to things like these ravaging wildfires. And so I think we see that analogy for the water and wastewater world where it’s centralized and decentralized working together to create overall more resilient systems. Because if you’re a. Look, you have to invest a lot of money into your centralized infrastructure, but if you want to make sure that your city is going to have a fully recycled water capability in the next 5, 10, 15 years, it’s going to be very tough to do that at only the centralized level.
But if you leverage distributed or decentralized as well, we’re going to help you get to those targets a lot more quickly. So we very much see it as a symbiotic relationship us with the utility.
Antoine Walter: It’s an interesting, really interesting comparison because it’s a topic which has been regularly touched on, on that microphone.
I remember a very, very deep conversation on that analogy between water and energy with Kim baker, for instance, from elemental. But there’s also a major difference, which is. You still need to pump your water to go from a to B. Whereas on an energy grid can be much more interconnected. Of course, if you travel the full word, you’re going to lose some energy, but still the interconnection is quite stronger on the energy side of the market, which speeds.
Even more for decentralized solutions in the water words that it speaks for it in the energy word. And despite that physical elements, if you look today, we can say that the energy market has 10 years of advance regarding that element of decentralization, but still we are very, very far behind. I mean, we’re still very, very central and centralized when it comes to water.
So do you really believe that. When you’re looking at the energy markets, you’re looking at the future and that is going to happen, or is there a hidden secret source in the water market almost that would make it quite a
Aaron Tartakovsky: different beast? Yeah, no, like it’s a great point. Well, water is a very different, yeah.
And I’m sure this came up in your conversation with Kim baker as well. You know, no analogy is going to be perfect. I often laugh at the number of companies, you know, number of companies I see in San Francisco that are the Uber for X. No analogy is perfect. Everything’s going to have be there. There’s going to be caveats.
There’s going to be differences, but I think the fundamental. Comparisons we’re trying to draw is that we need to move away from just doing things the same way we’ve been doing things. And when it comes to the energy world, you know, I think you’re right. We are about 10 to 15 years behind the energy folks with.
You know, Hey, it means that we have a lot of work to do, but we also have the benefit of seeing what they did. Right. And frankly, in my opinion, what they did wrong. And I think that’s going to help us to be able to cater the approach to how we help accelerate decentralized in this country. And frankly, around the world is by learning from what these other analogous sectors have done.
And it’s true for. Even looking at telecommunications, where we went from poles and wires to cell phones. I think there’s a lot of industries where we are seeing decentralization and I think there’s a reason for it. So yeah, I would say different world for sure. But my vision is this, you know, I live in California, I’m in Northern California.
We pump water from Northern California. Over mountains to Southern California. I want to get to a place where Northern California and Southern California can have their own locally sourced water supplies, not just because it’s a nice, nice sounding idea. It makes us more resilient if there’s a bigger earthquake and that water supply is cutoff, you know, from that sort of connection from Northern Southern California, LA is in big trouble.
And we don’t talk about that a lot, but you know, my vision is to make sure that we can have water created where it’s needed versus needing to move it where we need it. .
Antoine Walter: And the legitimate energy and, and the implications, but to bring it back on track, let’s maybe explain what Epic Cleantech is. You’re working with the onsite water reuse part of the markets, and you’re working with the reuse part.
And I’ll let you explain that the twist in a second, not in the conventional way, if I may say so, which we spoil a bit with the decentralized elements, but what is your definition or your elevator pitch to what you’re doing and where you’re doing?
Aaron Tartakovsky: Sure. So epic, clean tech does onsite wastewater treatment and reuse, which means we’re going into large buildings or groups of buildings taking wastewater that you would normally send to the sewer.
We are capturing that wastewater, treating it and then reusing it in the building for non-potable applications, things like toilet flushing, urinal, flushing, irrigation, cooling towers, laundry. And when you add up all of these different non-potable applications, you can sometimes get up to 95% of the building’s water use can be provided by recycled water sources.
Now you mentioned some of the things that we do differently. We are big believers in the fact that there is no waste in waste. Which means that all of these different things that weren’t, that would normally sort of be disposed of, we actually want to repurpose and reuse. So we turn wastewater into three outputs.
One is recycled water. As I mentioned, two is organic soil amendments. So all of these wastewater organics that we often send to the sewer that are either used beneficially or sent to landfill, where they give off emissions, we actually take those, put it through our own process and create these amazing carbon rich soil blends that we can then use in and around.
And then the third piece is recovered wastewater heat. So we use it in an incredible amount of energy in buildings, for things like heating water for showers, for dishwashers, for laundry, and all of that heat then goes back into the sewer. And by our calculations, there is enough energy being lost through wastewater heat, to power every single electric vehicle on the road in the United States right now.
So we actually think, look, let’s, this is just one more component that we can now turn into a commodity. We can reuse this heat preheat, the building’s domestic hot water supply and bring the overall energy footprint of our systems down. So we are focused on the built environment, which is buildings, it’s resorts, it’s campuses, it’s data centers, it’s wineries, it’s anything where you have a building structure that is meeting water, but that is not going to be where we stop as a company.
But certainly that’s where we’re starting is it’s a space we know. Why
Antoine Walter: did you decide for that critical size? Where did you say the building is going to be our playground? Why not? I don’t know. A couple of houses, a piece of the city. I mean, you, you express your belief of decentralized versus the central utility, but still why
Aaron Tartakovsky: they’re building.
It’s a great question. And there’s a few answers to it. One is just looking at the macro trends. You know, we see the vast majority of people moving into. No. I meant by some estimates, 70% of the world’s population living in cities by 2050 and the rate at which we are adding new building stock to our global supply is like, we’re adding a new Manhattan every single month from now until 2060.
So we’re just building and in many cases we’re going up and we see that a lot of these cities are built on infrastructure that is not designed to handle. That type of urban density, you know, we’ve infrastructure putting anywhere from 30 to a hundred years ago that was designed to accommodate a certain amount of wastewater flow and was designed to provide a certain amount of water.
And we’re seeing a lot of cities, especially in water scarce, Western United States who are right now are not necessarily in a great position to be able to handle that water and wastewater those water and wastewater needs. For decades to come. And so we see an incredible opportunity to focus on cities and to focus on real estate.
Another piece is that we were spun out from an existing building engineering firm. So my co-founder slash father Igor has been designing high performance buildings for the last 40 years. This is a space that we know well. And when we looked at the building space, we said, look, there’s a lot of really great innovations happening on sustainability front.
A lot of them were really focused on energy, which is important because we need to decarbonize buildings. But when it came to water there, wasn’t a lot of. Just really holistic looks at how do we reuse? How do we use less water in the building? Yeah, we have low flush toilets that go from five gallons to 1.2 gallons.
We have, uh, uh, appliances that use less. We have fixtures that use less. That’s great. But in terms of looking at, how do we actually think about water in a much more comprehensive way there not a lot being done there and we saw an opportunity to do that. So when you factor those two first things in together, that’s how sort of we came upon this market.
And then of course, San Francisco became the first city in the country to actually legislate that all new, large buildings have to do onsite water reuse. So for all of those reasons, we saw this path forward in and out, you know, again, that was six years ago, whereas San Francisco, what we were doing used to sort of be a bit pioneering and it’s still is, there are now many more cities and many more states adopting on-site water reuse as part of their long-term plan.
So that means
Antoine Walter: that in San Francisco, you have a regulation trigger. Does that exist in other places? And if it doesn’t exist is the incentive and the yoke factor sufficiently over calm so that you can market your solutions. All the places, which wouldn’t be like, like San Francisco.
Aaron Tartakovsky: Yeah. So San Francisco, we do have an ordinance in place.
So any new construction project currently over 250,000 square feet has to do on-site water reuse. And again, it’s a very common sense rationale as to why we’re doing it. And it came about in the last drought back in 2015, our elected officials said. You know, we are suffering. Our state is suffering when it comes to sort of water supplies.
Why are we using fresh water from national parks to flush our toilets and downtown San Francisco when we can be manufacturing, water onsite for those types of applications. So San Francisco led the charge, but certainly any sustainable business I believe cannot be truly sustainable if it’s only reliant on incentives, grants, and subsidies.
So the real driver for what we’re doing is cost. Which is to say, a lot of these projects are feeling the sting of our infrastructure was, which is to say that utilities have to increase water and sewer rates every single year to pay for all of the needed repairs and maintenance. And then a lot of cities we’re talking about that’s 10, 12, 15% a year increases.
Those are annual increases. So by reusing water on site, a lot of these projects are able to reduce their water and sewer bills significantly. And in the case of our project, We’re helping them to get ROI of three to five years. So that’s San Francisco. LA also has requirements buildings over 25 stories have to recycle water on site to produce 100% recycled water for their cooling towers.
Austin, Texas just announced an onsite water reuse incentive program to incentivize buildings to install. California state has now Senate bill 9 66, Washington state just passed their own Hawaii is about to pass around. So what started in San Francisco is certainly not going to stop in San Francisco and even cities like New York have onsite water reuse grant programs.
So there’s a huge amount of opportunity to do this, but again, no one’s doing it out of the goodness of their heart. Utilities are incentivizing it because it actually helps their cause it helps them to diversify the water supply portfolio and reduce the amount of wastewater going into their systems.
And buildings are opting in because it’s saving them. You know, what I can tell you is that there are a lot of amazing developers out there who have sincere commitments to sustainability. But they’re not going to be able to adopt these types of approaches if it’s not saving the money because they don’t just make decisions based on what feels right.
They have people they have to answer to, they have banks, they have loans at the end of the day. You know, the bottom line is what’s driving these decisions. And for a lot of folks investing in onsite water reuse is a helping them save costs and to hedge against future water challenges.
Antoine Walter: But that is not a very, very objective and rational answer.
And don’t get me wrong. I fully subscribe to that. Um, fully aligned with what you just explained. I’m just wondering, you know, you have a lot of people out there which are a bit NIMBY, not in my backyard. Onsite Water Reuse is wonderful. If you’re taking my water, you flush it away. You bring it to a far far for your Trinity, which is reusing it for agriculture.
I’m very fine with that. But knowing my own building happening in my, in the basement of the place I leave or I work and seeing that water that was in my toilets. I exactly know what was inside before it was treated. There is a bit of subjective factor. Inside that. And you said it very right at the very beginning when you said that, as soon as it’s pee and poo, everybody’s like, whoa, when can get quite, quite viral, quite, quite fast is still, there is a bit of this element insights, which makes it not as the racial, as other parts of our lives.
Do you encounter this kind of reaction where people say, yeah, all of that’s all the numbers add rights, but still not sure if we shall do it.
Aaron Tartakovsky: 100% what you are describing as what we like to call the flush and forget mentality that we fostered in the society. We have very literally created infrastructure that is out of sight out of mind.
So we are trained to not ever have to think about these things. When we flush the toilet, we don’t think about what happens next. And when we turn on a tap, we assume water’s going to come out. That’s how we’ve designed our infrastructure. And there’s no surprise that people never really grappled with these issues.
So there is always going to be. That element of I’m uncomfortable with this, because I have literally been conditioned to be uncomfortable with this. But what we’ve found is that taking a very science and technology forward approach is what helps people to get comfortable with these different ideas.
Obviously, you know, you can have bill gates on a talk show, drinking water from one of the systems deployed by the gates foundation. But we found is in talking with customers. It’s really just about educating them that look, these systems have been deployed all over the. These technologies have been around for a long time.
That’s not really sort of the issue they just need to understand. Is it safe? How do we ensure it’s going to work into perpetuity? What are all the different rules and regulations we’re going to comply with? What I’ve personally found is that so much about successfully deploying these systems has little to do with the technology, because a lot of these folks, it’s just a black box.
What they want to know is everything else. How is it permitted? How do we get install it? And how do we make sure it’s. Successfully into perpetuity. And those are all the different things that we’ve put together and are offering it up at Cleantech, which is handholding. Um, the entire duration of the process, understanding that dealing with toilets has never really been something that they’ve been comfortable doing.
So we come in and, and help them do that. It’s interesting what
Antoine Walter: you just said about the everything, but technically in the sense of the black box and everything, because that is really something that impressed me when I had a look at your website. Everything we discuss now for the past 20 minutes is much more a technical even thought, not absolutely to the bone of the technique side of it, but it’s much more technical than anything I found on your website.
Your website is really captured towards the benefits, the why, and the what’s in it for me, which in terms of marketing is brilliant. But I was wondering if I was now me, what water engineer restarting from scratch your website. I’d probably say something like coolest membrane. There is, there are, they will, they will ever be.
And that is my flow and it consumes that much and you gain that much and you took a fully different routes, which is probably the better route, but why did you decide to be first catcher to the end user?
Aaron Tartakovsky: Yeah. No. And I’m glad you picked that up because it’s all very much intended. No. I think most of the folks that we engage with, the architects, the developers, the contractors, these are all very smart people, but they’re not well versed on biological oxygen demand and TSS and membranes and all of these other terms.
We can get into all of that. And we have amazing water and wastewater engineers on our team. We have two certified wastewater operators on staff and we can get as deep into the technology has anyone ever wants to? But what we found is that that is not actually the key to getting people excited about deploying these technologies into their buildings.
They don’t necessarily want the most cutting edge pioneering technology. They want something tried and. Which is what we’re providing them. You know, I think when it comes to water and wastewater, you know, building owners are, are many cases operating the same way as utilities, which is to say we are naturally risk averse because when you’re dealing with water and wastewater, the single biggest driver for a, or I should say the single biggest commitment for us is protecting public health.
So we can’t necessarily mess around in these buildings and try something that’s never been done before. People’s health and safety are at risk. And so we are focused on the bigger picture because at epic clinic, we like to say, we’re not just trying to introduce a new technology. We’re trying to fundamentally change the conversation.
And that’s what our website, that’s how we talk about these issues. All of that is intended to do that because yes, our business is focusing on a single project at a time, but our longterm goal is to fundamentally shift how cities are using. How buildings are built. And for that, the technology is just one piece of the puzzle.
Antoine Walter: That’s a piece of the puzzle, which I will have to ask you to invade a bit. How does that work? What what’s inside the engine of what you’re doing at it before.
Aaron Tartakovsky: Yeah. So we have, uh, multiple solutions that we can provide. We have some technology elements that are proprietary, that we developed. And in other cases, we partner with existing players.
We partner with existing suppliers and help basically bring their technology into our overall treatment train to borrow a term. We mentioned. Water is an interesting animal wastewater from one project to the next it’s going to look radically different. So there is no one size fits all solution. When it comes to wastewater, some projects will want us to do, greywater only fine.
Some projects want us to do Blackwater. Some projects are going to have us do some sort of mix with rainwater stormwater. We can do all of that and we can tailor solutions specifically for those projects. But let me talk about, uh, Blackwater, uh, just as, as one example, We will go into that building as a first step, we are removing the solids from that wastewater.
Those are solids that would typically be sent to landfill or discharged into the sewer, which by the way, the utilities hate because when you’re discharging solids and reusing water, that just means that you’re putting solids with no flow back into their sewers, which causes all sorts of downstream issues.
So we think it’s not, it doesn’t make sense to solve one problem, recycling water, but to cause a second problem, which is. Uh, solids accumulation downstream. So we actually take those solids. We take them off site to what we call our epic hubs, and we turn them into these amazing soil products. So these epic hubs can service multiple buildings with the solids.
Now removed the downstream water treatment is now much easier. And typically what we’re going to be doing is using a membrane bowel reactor to actually treat that. And get it to exceptionally high quality standards where it can then be reused onsite. So that is a membrane bioreactor, which again, for those who aren’t as familiar is a combination of filtration and biology that together help clean the water to exceptionally high quality standards.
And then we can do a number of things we can use UV aro. To get it to the water quality standards that we need, and then they can be reused onsite for all those non-potable applications. I mentioned earlier. Now, of course, we can also leverage heat recovery to again, bring down the overall energy footprint of the system, but that’s one example of the offerings we have.
But again, depending on the application, we can, we can actually bring different technologies into the mix.
Antoine Walter: Talking of offering, what is it here? That’s your market? Is it the skid itself with the MBR and the pretreatment and the post treatment? Or is it a package service? And we deliver water reuse by the gallon.
Aaron Tartakovsky: Again, this goes back to the fact that our customers are largely not super familiar with this entire space. So our offering is we can do. So we can help with those early concept stages. We can help with the permitting and regulatory strategy. So if we’re going into new market that doesn’t have an on-site water reuse program, how do we get distinct permitted?
And we have an entire policy and government affairs team that is just dedicated on helping to map out those strategies. Then we have engineers. We have building engineers, they have where we have water and wastewater engineers who can make sure that we’re designing and tailoring a system to the project.
We then help with the construction oversight. So we will make sure that they know exactly what’s happening and how we integrate it into the building. And then we have an operations team, so we don’t want to just deliver a system and then say, okay, here it goes. It’s going to work. And you figure out how to make sure it continues working for 5, 10, 15, 20 years.
So we actually have an operations arm that can either treat. Other operators or we can operate these systems ourselves. I’m going to take it back to energy one more time, just because I know you love analogy. So let’s go back the energy world. When we look at the energy markets, it’s not like anyone in recent memory invented PV technology.
What they did was they found interesting business models. They found different ways to sort of rearrange the regulations, to be able to help. Really explode. And I think we are doing that for water wastewater, but again, we’re 10 to 15 years behind the energy guys. The technology is just one piece, but it’s everything else that we as a company have developed where we are actually bringing white glove service to make sure that as you build your project and you will encounter headaches.
I challenge anyone to tell me a real estate development product that doesn’t encounter headaches. We just want to make sure that water and wastewater is not going to be one of them.
Antoine Walter: You have this energy and energy. Absolutely accurate, but there is an even more direct analogy. What you’re basically doing is DBO design build operate, which is what you do on the very, very, very huge utility project.
You’ve just managed to bring that to scale so that it fits into a building. What’s your secret to do that?
Aaron Tartakovsky: Yeah. You know, I think it’s the team, you know, the secret is a team that has experienced across the entire value chain. So we actually have folks from the energy sector who are familiar with project finance.
So if there’s a product that does want project finance, we can come up with interesting ways to make sure that. These types of approaches are actually going to pencil out for these projects. It’s having experience. As I said on the policy and government affairs side on the permitting side, on the regulatory side, on the operations side, it’s being able to let our customers have confidence, knowing that there is not a single element of these systems that is going to be a surprise to us because we’ve seen it all.
So I think the key to our success. Whether it’s design build, operate, design, build, own operate, whether it’s wastewater as a service, you know, there’s a lot of flexibility. We can get really creative there. You know, it all comes back to the team and it’s all coming back to people who have, you know, in our case, we have people with decades of experience in building engineering, we have people who’ve been doing water and real estate for 15 and 20 years.
So it’s just having seen it all before, uh, what it allows us to be able to implement all these interesting.
Antoine Walter: Let’s take a concrete example of what’s, where you’re actually delivering to understand where such a project starts and how you deploy it in over which timeframe what happens is it’s a matter of weeks of month or are really helping out such a customer over years.
What is your approach?
Aaron Tartakovsky: Let me bring up another concrete example, which is park habitat. So park habitat is a 1.2 million square foot development in San Jose is a 20 story office tower that is going to be literally covered on all sides by Greenwall. So what we’re doing there is actually taking all of this water from this project.
Not only reusing it, but actually tweaking the process. To make sure that some of those nutrients are left in the water to be able to both irrigate and fertilize the plant life on this building or to fertigate the entire green wall of this project. So you know how that project starts. Uh, on the feasibility side one, what are the water we used to Manson?
And this is going to be true for any project, but is, you know, looking at the project and say, okay, how much water is this building going to produce? Then we say, okay, what are the non-potable demands for this project? And we match those two together to make sure that we have enough water to satisfy all of those non-potable demands.
Then it’s a matter of talking to the utility. It’s a matter of talking. Two different leaders in a given geography to make sure that what we’re doing is going to work for them. You know, every single city, I mean, cities are almost like snowflakes and that they’re all special and unique in their own way.
Every city is going to have different challenges when it comes to their water and wastewater infrastructure, which goes back to no there’s no one size fits all solution. So, you know, for some cities, you know, their big concern is, well, if you’re going to be reusing water, we don’t want you to put solids back into our sewers for other cities.
It’s look, we’re developing our own recycled water capability. So we don’t want you to be a threat to our ability to provide recyclable. So in that case, we are targeting areas where their recycled water infrastructure will not extend to. So as you can see a huge part of what we do happens before the system has ever delivered to the building and it’s all around feasibility, it’s all around, making sure that our solution is going to work with everyone involved for the customer, for the utility.
And anyone else who has any type of peripheral connection to what it is that we’re doing. So that project is really exciting because especially in a place like California, where we are really feeling the effects of this drought in a very pronounced way. It is huge to have developers behind this park habitat project, sending a message of when the state is going through these challenges.
It is part of our job to set the standard for how all projects, how all developers should be designing these buildings, which is to say reusing their water and making sure that they’re building an overall more resilient.
Antoine Walter: I’m coming back to the communication element because it sounds to me like you cracked it.
So I’d love to take that out as a best practice. People could replicate having listened to you because you can present that in two ways. The first way is to say, look, we’ve brought the international space station on earth and we are able to recycle so much. We improve the resilience. So that would be the positive way to look at it.
The negative way to look at it, the same story we just say, Hey, we are so short on water that we cannot afford to use water anymore. So Hey, we have to recycle more and more and more, but that’s, I mean, if tomorrow, for whatever reason, we have much more water, let’s forget about all that reuse. So it’s a totally different approach.
On one end of the story. It’s fascinating on the other end of the story, it’s, you’re forced into it is the balance to find between both of them or is it really bringing people to dream about that being the future? Yeah.
Aaron Tartakovsky: You know, I don’t actually think it’s a dream, you know, I think we look around other countries, you know, again, I’m speaking on behalf of someone who’s in the United States where we, you know, the amount of water we recycle as a nation is in the single digits.
You know, I used to live in a. A country that recycles 90% of their wastewater. I think Spain is somewhere in thirties right now. I mean, we’re
Antoine Walter: at bone six, so you’re good.
Aaron Tartakovsky: Well, there’s plenty of beautiful things and amazing things about France. Um, you know, I think, look, you can look at the, the, the amount of water recycling we do in the United States.
And you can say, wow, what a shame? That’s the numbers. What I see, I look at other countries around the world and I look at the amazing technology and the potential and the different leaders in the water space. And I say, okay, well, we have a huge opportunity to do better. And I think I’m just kind of an eternal optimist.
It’s just the way I was raised in the family. I grew up with being a child of refugees and immigrants. I think we are sort of conditioned to want to think about things in a positive way. And so I think it very much is the future. And. Another anecdote, just to go back to the yuck factor that you mentioned before.
And I think we’d like to talk about the yuck factor a lot, and we like to assume that everyone is going to be against onsite water reuse and water recycling. And I think people will look at, you know, the toilet to tap a fiasco a few decades ago. But what I’ve actually seen is that people are very excited about it.
You know, I’ve seen, for example, in one of the projects and sent downtown San Francisco, we were in a 35 story high rise, where we were actually mining wastewater solids from this project and turning it into soil that we were planting in a garden, a block away and growing vegetables that are repurposed toilet planters.
Now that story hit the news. It was published by NBC in San Francisco. And so we sat and we wanted to see what is going to be the reaction of the 754 apartments in this project, which by the way, is, you know, over a thousand people living in this building and what we found that was not a yuck factor. In fact, people were extremely excited and we started getting requests from tourists, for people living in the.
And now just accept the, just so everyone really understands what’s happening. These are people living up on the 30th story who are using the toilet and we have the cleaned up we’re on the bottom floor, taking those solids and reusing it to grow vegetables, but people are very excited. I think people are very motivated by the science and technology.
And I think, you know, when it comes to sort of what the future looks like, I, I’m actually much more optimistic that this is going to be widely embraced by.
Antoine Walter: Talking over this external view and recognition, you are accumulating the prizes you’ve been awarded. I think by, by fast companies, as the world changing ID in 2021 and 2020, how do you deal with this praise that you get from everywhere around this industry and outside this.
Aaron Tartakovsky: Yeah, look, you know, it’s all very welcome, you know, it’s great validation for the team. You know, we’re all very committed to what we’re doing and we know that what we’re doing has the potential to really change the world for the better. But, you know, I think part of what it comes from is that, you know, I don’t think there’s been enough attention on water and waste.
No, I think our industry doesn’t do a good enough job telling the story, which is why I think it’s so critical to have you out there really kind of leading the charge with your podcast and bringing on really smart people and thought leaders in this industry to talk about how can we do things better?
So, so thank you first of all, to you for, for the work that you’re doing, but it’s obviously important to get that validation because we don’t only want to be talking to the people who come to water and wastewater conference. You know, which as we all know, there are a lot of them, but we want to be addressing this to sort of the general public, you know, I often ask people, you know, you walk on the street, you stop the average person on the sidewalk.
You asked them what’s the most exciting technology company, apple, Amazon, Google, you know, they’ll have a few to name. What’s the most exciting electric vehicle company, Tesla. What’s the most exciting solar company, solar city Sunrun. What’s the most exciting water technology.
And, you know, I, one guy actually recently said, Disani so we need to do a much better job telling the story. And we have an amazing story teller. I often say that people who work in the water wastewater space, especially our utility workers, you know, there, I hold them in the same steam as first responders.
You know, these are people who work 24, 7 and over holidays to make sure that our systems, whether it comes to water will comes to wastewater, continue to function. People oftentimes don’t realize how critical water and wastewater are until they stop working. And they realize you can’t really do much if you don’t have one of those two.
So I just think we need to be doing a better job telling our story and not just to each other, but to the general public and you know, all of these different awards and recognition. It’s all great. But for us, it’s just, it’s just a means to be able to continue to tell this story in a big way and to get the general public involved.
And, and, you know, again, I didn’t touch too much of my own background, but I come from the world of federal politics. No. I know that members, whether you’re a local elected official, whether you’re in Congress, you’re getting approached by about a thousand different issues a day. Everyone’s pulling you every single, which way.
The only way you’re going to prioritize issues is if you keep on hearing about. Not just from lobbyists, but from the general public. And so it’s our opinion that if people know about these issues and they’re better educated on water wastewater, they’re going to start making these issues known. They’re going to start approaching their elected officials.
And that’s how we’re actually going to be able to get some bigger change on sort of the governmental regulation level. So
Antoine Walter: don’t you think we are missing one single thing to achieve that because you mentioned apple, Amazon. Facebook Tesla. So that is one single thing is to say we have one company that leads the charge.
And if you look at climate change, for instance, the one single thing is carbon footprint. Everybody knows you shall look at carbon when it comes to the water. What is our key message? Is it water for all? Why not? Is it the study duration for all? Again, why not? Is it’s a mark on onsite water reuse? I mean, you have so many different things you could be looking at.
We met. Be missing one single thing where we all want a people unite around bets and then bring the message over and over a certain period of time of everybody hearing about that. It’s going to be imprinted in everyone’s minds. Do I agree with that one? And if you agree with that one, what would be your single message?
Aaron Tartakovsky: no, look, it’s a really great point. You know, I think what you’re calling out is that there needs to be a single rallying. For the industry and, you know, I think it basically, it’s a fallacy to separate climate change from water issues. I think climate change is water change, and I know that’s not an original thought and we’re hearing that more and more, but I think we need to continue to make that a priority because you know, some of the most direct impacts of climate change are felt through.
There felt through more prolonged droughts, there felt through more extreme flooding. So, you know, oftentimes we maybe don’t associate with, you know, the cause, but the effect is oftentimes felt through water. And so I think we need to make sure that we are doing a better job of elevating water issues and challenges as being directly tied to all of this.
Challenges that are being addressed by, you know, the traditional climate tech or climate change folks who are only focused on de-carbonization. But, you know, just look at the water energy nexus. We are part of that conversation. We’re an integral part of that conversation, and we just need to do a better job telling that.
Antoine Walter: I have a last question for you in that, in that deep dive, you mentioned that you want to change the word on the long run, but you mentioned as well that’s today. You have cities in the U S which are very open in terms of regulation, which gives you an opportunity. What is your long bowl game? I think if you look at China, for instance, there is a booming market and secondary drinking water treatment, and it was.
That sounds quite aligned with what you could be offering. And on the other hand, if there’s one thing that you should avoid as a startup is to, to de-focus. So what is your, what is your approach towards this global markets and outside of your Homeland?
Aaron Tartakovsky: Yeah. Yeah. Look, I think what you brought up is exactly right.
That there needs to be. You know, there are million different things we can be going out and doing, but we are trying to remain disciplined to sort of really nailing down our offering and a few key target markets, both in terms of the actual technology, as well as geography. But the ultimate goal of epic Cleantech is to bring clean water and reliable sanitation to growing cities around the world.
Now, you know, you mentioned China, you know, outside of the United States, the most people come into our website or in India and India. You know, we are acutely aware of the challenges in the markets that exist outside of the United States. Frankly, I think Europe, you know, obviously, you know, when it comes to water, it’s a different situation in the United States, but I’m always just continually impressed by how much European countries have really embraced a lot of these, you know, far reaching sustainability measures and how they design their cities and how they build their buildings.
And so I think you’re up just really setting an amazing example for the world, but the world has changed. Our water and wastewater infrastructure. The way we’re doing things is not going to be able to keep up with how many people are going to be on this planet and what this planet is actually going to look like.
And so our goal is to be able to create solutions tailored to each of these different cities around the world, to be able to make sure that we have a water secure and water resilient future. And again, we’re talking about cities right now, but you know, our roots are from the bill and Melinda gates funded.
So we understand that, you know, whereas in San Francisco we’re going to be saving a developer on his ongoing costs, our solution, and other, in other scenarios is going to be helping, sort of raise people out of poverty and it’s going to help save lives. And so, you know, we are going to be focused on developing world markets as well.
So I guess all we can say is we are working on it and you know, epic Cleantech will be coming to a city near you.
Antoine Walter: I have to tell you a light. That wasn’t my last question, because that triggers one more. You mentioned that you, you come out from that bill and Melinda gates foundation, you were appraised by, by many people inside and outside these industry.
And we discussed that element of leading the charge by having why not a unicorn leading the charge. Could that be epic Cleantech
Aaron Tartakovsky: 100%. That is not what drives us as a company. And I think it’s one of the things that I, I I’m most excited about by my team is that we have a bunch of mission-driven impact focused individuals who are very much committed to sort of change in the world.
And you need that because this is not easy work. This is a big, complicated, global challenge. And if you have someone who’s only motivated by what their stock options are going to look like, those are people who are not going to stick around. But when you have people who are focused on what really matters, you know, that’s, what’s going to lead us to be able to become, you know, whether it’s a unicorn or just a big company, that’s going to be able to really change the world and you know, all the other pieces and, you know, making sure that we can return a good returns to our shareholders.
All of that will come, but it’s not going to come without that first mission-driven elements. So the short answer to your. Yes, I think we can become that and we are on the path to becoming that, but, uh, we’re in it for all the right reasons.
Antoine Walter: And what is the timeframe at which we shall discuss again, to see if you achieved it or not?
Aaron Tartakovsky: You know, why don’t we, uh, why don’t we talk again in one year, I’ll let you know where we are.
Antoine Walter: Wow. I love that ambition. Yeah. Great.
Aaron Tartakovsky: Perfect. Yeah. I’m happy. Happy to speak with you anytime we can, we can make this an annual checkup.
Antoine Walter: Okay. Sounds like a cool tradition from the propose you to switch to the rapid fire questions.
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Rapid fire questions:
Antoine Walter: So in that last section, I try to keep the questions short. I promise you to not sidetrack too much. And if you, if you can, you can try to keep the answers short as well. My first question is what is the most exciting project you’ve been working on and why?
Aaron Tartakovsky: Well, all of my projects are like children that they’re all special and we don’t have a favorite, but I will say this park habitat project in San Jose that I mentioned with 20 stories of living wall is very exciting.
What’s your favorite
Antoine Walter: part of your current.
Aaron Tartakovsky: Um, the different things that we touch every day from water and wastewater to soil, to climate tech, you know, there’s so many different aspects that we touch upon much like water that it just every day is an exciting day at epic. What is the trends
Antoine Walter: to watch out for in the water industry
Aaron Tartakovsky: decentralization and we’re we’re right in.
Antoine Walter: I was about to say, and you’re not allowed to say decentralization.
Aaron Tartakovsky: Well, I will, I will also add, um, you know, Smartwater, you know, I think helping us move away from being sort of what we like to call the clipboard army of people, reading meters and putting it on pencil and paper. I think we have a lot to do with bringing software to the water space.
Antoine Walter: The thing you care about the most when you’re working on a new project and what is the one you care about?
Aaron Tartakovsky: I mean, the most is always going to be making sure that we provide a great experience to our. No. I think customer service is paramount to everything we do at epic Cleantech. And that’s what we’re most focused on.
Um, the thing I’m least excited about, uh, on projects is, you know, occasionally having to change out a filter, but that happens. That’s part of the job.
Antoine Walter: Do you have sources to recommend, to keep up with the water and wastewater market trends?
Aaron Tartakovsky: You mean beyond your pocket? Of course. Yeah, look, you know, I think there’s a, there’s a lot of different sources that we like, but, you know, we read all the different publications, but I think frankly, what I like to do is set Google alerts for a bunch of different topics, whether it’s water, wastewater, decentralized, sludge, and just be aware of typically it’s not good news.
That you hear in the news when you are searching for those terms. And so I think part of our focus is helping to make sure that the next time in a year, when we get Google alerts, there’s going to be a lot more positive information there.
Antoine Walter: Last question. Would you have someone to recommend me that I should definitely invite on that microphone?
Aaron Tartakovsky: Yeah, I have a few different people. Um, but you know, I would say one of our, our star investors, a man named Peter EULAs from echo river capital. He’s a water entrepreneur. Uh, he built at co-founded and built water, smart software. Um, he’s a great guy to talk to.
Antoine Walter: Oh, sorry. It looks like we will have a chance to discuss again in one year, I’m going to check my calendar.
I think I’m open in one year.
Aaron Tartakovsky: Good. Send me an invite.
Antoine Walter: Well, thanks, everyone. It was a pleasure discussing your incredible path. And, um, if we make that to recurring events.