How Salinity Solutions Squeezes More Water out of Any Stream for Half the Energy

Ok, water scarcity and pollution are two of the biggest challenges our world faces today, right? So imagine a technology that could dramatically reduce energy consumption, cut water rejection, and make water reuse and resource recovery simpler and cheaper. Too niche? Too good to be true? Well, we should probably look at Salinity Solutions. Let’s dig in!

with 🎙️ Tim Naughton – CTO and Founder of Salinity Solutions

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🔗 Salinity Solutions’ website:

🔗 The crowdfunding platform they leveraged:

🔗 Innovate UK:

🔗 Cornish Lithium:

🔗 SQM Lithium Ventures:

🔗 SUEZ signing with Salinity Solutions:

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My Tour of Salinity Solutions’ Pilot:

Introducing: Salinity Solutions

Salinity Solutions emerged from a need to improve traditional reverse osmosis (RO) technology, which, despite its widespread use, has significant drawbacks. Conventional RO systems consume large amounts of energy, produce substantial waste, and require numerous chemicals to operate. These challenges limit the technology’s potential to address global water issues effectively.

Tim Naughton, with a background in fluid mechanics and a passion for humanitarian aid, recognized these limitations and saw an opportunity for innovation. His journey began in 2015 as a volunteer on a project aimed at coupling solar energy with water treatment technologies for remote communities. This experience laid the foundation for what would become Salinity Solutions.

In 2019, Tim participated in the iCure program, a UK government initiative that helps researchers commercialize their innovations. This program was pivotal in transforming Salinity Solutions from a lab-based project to a market-ready company. The support from Innovate UK, which included a £300,000 grant, provided the initial funding needed to develop and commercialize their batch reverse osmosis technology.

What makes Batch Reverse Osmosis Different?

The core innovation of Salinity Solutions lies in its batch reverse osmosis (BRO) technology. Unlike traditional continuous RO systems, BRO operates in cycles, allowing for more precise control over pressure and flow rates. This process significantly reduces energy consumption and increases water recovery rates, making it more sustainable and cost-effective.

Tim Naughton explains, “Our technology has been proven to reduce energy consumption by 50% compared to traditional continuous RO and semi-batch RO technologies. In addition, we can achieve higher water recovery rates, which will increase opportunities for water reuse.”

This innovation is not just theoretical. Salinity Solutions has demonstrated its effectiveness in real-world applications, achieving up to 98% water recovery in various pilot projects. This is a significant improvement over conventional RO systems, which typically achieve around 95% recovery but require much larger and more complex setups to do so.

Milestones and Achievements

Salinity Solutions has made remarkable progress in a relatively short time. Their first major breakthrough came with a successful pilot project with Cornish Lithium, a mining company in the UK. This project not only validated their technology but also highlighted its potential in the mining sector, where water recovery and efficiency are critical.

Another significant milestone was securing a £1 million investment from SQM Lithium Ventures, the corporate venture arm of Chile’s leading lithium producer. This investment is part of a broader initiative by SQM to improve water and energy efficiency in their operations. The partnership aims to deploy Salinity Solutions’ technology in the Salar de Atacama, one of the driest places on Earth, to enhance lithium recovery while minimizing water usage and brine extraction.

Salinity Solutions has also entered the direct potable reuse (DPR) market with a pilot project in collaboration with Suez, a global leader in water management. This project involves a 100m³/day unit deployed at one of Suez’s wastewater treatment plants in France, marking a significant step toward mainstreaming BRO technology in water reuse applications.

What’s next for Salinity Solutions?

Salinity Solutions is not just about improving water treatment technology; it’s about creating a sustainable future. The company’s mission aligns with broader global goals of reducing water scarcity and pollution while enhancing resource efficiency. Tim Naughton and his team are driven by the vision of making high-efficiency water treatment accessible and effective for various applications, from industrial processes to humanitarian projects.

Tim envisions a future where batch reverse osmosis becomes the standard technology for desalination and water treatment. “Our goal is to make Batch RO the technology of choice within the desalination sector, offering a more efficient and sustainable solution for water treatment,” he says.

Let’s dive deeper

The journey of Salinity Solutions is a testament to the power of innovation and determination. From its humble beginnings in a university lab to securing major investments and partnerships, the company is poised to make a significant impact on the global water crisis.

To explore more about the innovative journey and future plans of Salinity Solutions, we invite you to listen to our in-depth interview with Tim Naughton. In this exclusive conversation, Tim shares his insights on the challenges and opportunities in the water treatment industry, the role of technology in addressing global water issues, and his vision for the future.

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from one of the leading innovators in the water sector. Tune in to our interview with Tim Naughton and discover how Salinity Solutions is changing the game in water treatment and sustainability.

My Full Conversation with Tim Naughton – CTO and Founder of Salinity Solutions

These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂

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Antoine: If I’m right, you’re taking on reverse osmosis. That’s the villain in the room. What’s wrong with reverse osmosis and what can you do better?

Tim Naughton: Reverse osmosis, as you know, it’s a really well established technology. It’s used all over the world for treating waters, providing water for communities and also treating effluents to make them less toxic.

In the future, reverse osmosis, I mean, governments, industries, they’re looking towards reverse osmosis to help us tackle climate change. Pollution issues and tackle water scarcity. So the uptake of reverse osmosis is massive at the moment is one of the best technologies out there. But one of the main challenges with reverse osmosis is it consumes huge amount of energy, produces a lot of waste, and often it consumes a lot of chemicals during the operation.

That’s where our innovation comes in. It’s, um, the batch reverse osmosis that we have, it’s been, uh, whispered about in the academic spheres and by the CTOs of companies for a long time. But we’ve brought it. to market. And the process really tackles the core issues with reverse osmosis, much more efficient.

It achieves a really high recovery. So the waste volumes are really easy to manage and it reduces the chemicals required for the operations. In a lot of places, it’s enabling the adoption of reverse osmosis because it’s a viable solution. Now

Antoine: we’ll go into all the perks. While we were touring your pilots, you gave me a lot of additional perks.

But I want to start with a contrarian question. What is the downside of batch arrow compared to arrow?

Tim Naughton: The downside of batch arrow, I think it’s getting it adopted in the market is the downside at the moment. What we have isn’t a new technology per se. It’s a process innovation. We’re doing reverse osmosis.

We’re just doing it a bit better. It’s a non steady process. It was not in equilibrium all the time. There’s varying pressures. So people have to get used to that. But as a downside, there really isn’t one that I see.

Antoine: Fine enough. Before we go into the story, what’s your elevator pitch to salinity solution?

I’m sorry, that’s the question all the entrepreneurs hate, but I’m still asking it.

Tim Naughton: No problem. 98 percent water recovery, half the energy consumption and reduce chemicals.

Antoine: 98 percent water recovery and a conventional RO would do?

Tim Naughton: Conventional RO can be pushed up to kind of 95%, maybe 96 in some applications.

But when you’re doing that, if you want to make these technologies hit those recoveries, they have to be enormous. So you’re looking at. four or five stages of operation to get to those recoveries. And we can do that on a single step. The system that you saw in the lab there, it’s no more than a few meters long, that can achieve 98 percent water recovery and bring the efficiencies with it.

Antoine: It’s also the law of the big numbers. If you compare 98 percent to 95%, it might sound very close, but that means you have a bit more than two times less water at the outlet, which means that your subsequent steps can be also two times smaller. So just to say 95 is great. 98 is not just 3 percent better.

It’s like twice better in terms of the outcomes. But let’s go back to the roots of the story. And I intended to start the roots with the point where you started studying solutions, but it sounds to me like that is the second step. And that’s, if I do that, I’m missing the first one. What is an entrepreneurial lead?

And how did you end up doing that? I

Tim Naughton: think I’ll, uh, rewind a little bit further, if you don’t mind. Please do. My journey with this actually started in 2015 as a volunteer on this project. I really liked, uh, working in the lab and building machines and I had a passion for fluid mechanics. I got drawn towards this project specifically because of the humanitarian aid benefits of the technology.

With the time we were coupling it with solar energy and we were taking it to remote communities. We did some exchanges with, uh, an Israeli university. Taking the technology into Palestine, which is obviously very topical at the moment. There was only so much time that you can spend in the lab without taking this and making it a reality though.

So the entrepreneurial lead, that’s actually a phrase that was coined by Innovate UK, it’s a government funding organization. And there was a program called iCure, which is innovation to commercialization of university research. I got onto that program and the first six months is you’re the entrepreneurial lead in the university.

So you have to go out into the marketplace, find who the customers are, how they’re using it, what the market is, really start to develop the business case behind it. That’s what the entrepreneurial lead does, is they take the university IP and find out where in the marketplace So I did that in 2019. What that came back with was I got 300, 000 pound grant from Innovate UK to commercialize the technology.

What I had to do to get that money released was go and raise myself a hundred thousand pounds. The day that happened, I got the grant was the first day. In lockdown, the world shut and I got told, right, go, you can start a business if you can find a hundred K. I spent most of the next year in my flat in central Birmingham with no balcony on my laptop, trying to build a team and trying to raise the money required to get the business off the ground.

Obviously, the That happened. If we fast forward a few years, we now got a team that’s predominantly from the automotive sector. So they think quite differently to the way the water industry thinks. We’re challenging their thinking in a lot of ways. And they also, they’re used to operating at a pace that the water industry isn’t used to.

There’s definitely a need to progress the pace in which innovation takes place in the water sector. Now we’ve got a fantastic team behind us that we’re building a machine to get this technology out to the market as quickly as possible.

Antoine: There’s a lot to deconstruct in all you said. Let me just go back to the roots to understand.

I get that, right. That means you get the grant from 300, 000. So they are funding 75 percent under the condition that you fund the other 25%. But even before that, there’s an IP at the university, which is hold by you.

Tim Naughton: which is now a board member. So he’s Philip Davies. He’s uh, an observer on our board. He’s still full time at the University of Birmingham, professor of water technology.

He came up with the concept of the batch reverse osmosis initially. The capability of the process had been known about for a long time, but he simplified it enough to actually implement it. Through the research at the university, which, which I was, I was involved quite heavily with. We had. Five working prototype, all these prototypes were obviously increasing stages of engineering development as we progressed and the technology was incubated through the university much more than most technologies are by the time they exit a university, which is one of the reasons why we’ve been able to make such progress in the last few years.

Antoine: But your role. On top of supporting the development was to find the market need what is the first market need to identify the city at that’s the place we should go to

Tim Naughton: well the ambitions for the research initially were around humanitarian aid as I said the first thing that came back as a direct need for increased water recovery and increased efficiency which is what we deliver was in the mining sector I connected when I was doing a on the IQ journey they call it with a mining company that had a Direct need for this technology was actually gold mining in Western Australia.

But the market need for this technology is really interesting because the market need shifted so much over the last few years to where we are today. All of our sales for the last two years have been inbound. The demand for this type. The technology is significant. Industries and governments are under so much pressure to reduce their energy, reduce their water consumption and clean up the pollution.

Antoine: I make a jump in time and then I go back to that just because this resonates with something you told me before we started recording, which is that at the moment, you’re not looking for customers. So all you Sales came inbounds. And on top of that, now you’re in a situation where you’re like, let us already deliver what we committed.

How crazy of a situation is it to be in that

Tim Naughton: pretty blessed position? I guess it’s a very fortunate position to find ourselves in. I think what happened was one of the defining moments in our journey was our head of marketing, Jim Gilroy. He said, we need to make this technology famous. So we went on PR campaign.

We did a whole raft of interviews. We got on the news. We got written about in the right journals. The momentum just built and built. Since then, things have been happening in the world. I was listening to your podcast with John Freeman the other day where he was talking about a paper that he wrote in 2012 that impacted the Indian government.

There have been regulations in India for five, six years now on zero liquid discharge, but the regulations haven’t really been being enforced, and now they’re enforcing them. So, what’s going on? A good proportion of our inbound inquiries have been coming straight from India because they’ve got to clean up their mess.

They’ve got to act. I think it’s a combination of a great technology. It really helps. It works good strategy and good ambition within the business. But it’s the right time for the markets.

Antoine: We’ll go back to the company building. Do you know, Paul O’Callaghan? He’s the CEO and founder of Bluetech. He’s been three or four times on that microphone, mostly to discuss his thesis on the dynamics of water innovation, where he’s looking at how much does it take for a successful technology to go to market in the water sector?

Spoiler alert. It takes quite some time. If you look at crisis driven innovation, which is the best type there is in terms of speed of adoption, it’s 12 to 16 years. And if you look at a value driven innovation, which is then better than the market standards, but not imposed by regulation, then it’s almost double of that.

So 22, 25 years. It all starts with approximately 10 years of research. So far, your journey matches with that about 10 years of research in the lab, and then you spin it out. What’s so new is to check if you can beat those numbers and be faster to market than what’s expected and what has been recorded for UV disinfection, membrane bioreactors and the likes.

What is the first vehicle you’ve been hopping on to generate the momentum on the company? We left it at you’re in lockdown, looking to find that 100k. And if I’m right, you didn’t only find 750K. What’s the story of that?

Tim Naughton: The match fund that I needed to release the money from the grant, I needed 100, 000. I raised 150, 000 and that came from an investment company called Clean Engineering.

I’d worked with them for quite some time discussing where we wanted to take the business and our ambitions were really aligned. Together with the founding members of Clean Engineering started to develop a team around the business that could support our strategy and helping us take it to market. And 50, 000 that allowed us to build our first prototype.

It wasn’t a prototype. It was a slightly more industrialized version of the system. The system you saw in the lab. The one we saw. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. We engaged with our first customer to trial and almost straight away went to Crowdcube to raise money. So we did quite unconventionally and I’d recommend it to.

Any tech startup, we went crowdfunding. Crowdfunding usually doesn’t get such a good reaction, firstly with engineering technology, but also business to business sales. But the story behind what we’re trying to deliver here is really impactful and waters on the forefront of everyone’s mind. So we went out to Crowdcube to raise, initially it was 400, 000 pounds.

We were flabbergasted. We raised 750, 000 pounds. We got a lot more money than we expected. And then I think it was about a year later, we went back to Crowdcube again and raised another 750, 000. 150, 000, which has put us in such a strong position with our shareholder network. We’ve now got more than 2, 000 shareholders, 2, 000 champions of the business that we feel blessed to have them.

We feel incredibly well supported by them. And in our most recent Series A round, we just raised a million pounds from SQM Ventures. Brilliant to have them on board. I think we’re gonna make a great team. great difference in this industry together. We also at that round again raised another million pounds from our existing shareholders.

Antoine: So your existing crowdfunding shareholders could invest along SQM in your Series A? Exactly. And they did so? They did. Usually a company at your stage has one, two, three, sometimes more, but not so much investors, which they have to deal with. Have board meetings with them, discussion, stuff like that. You have 2000 shareholders.

What does that change? Do you have to interact with them? What do they expect from you? And what

Tim Naughton: do they bring in return? We interact with them quite a lot. There’s no board seat that came with the crowdfunding. So it allowed us to commercialize the. Business in the way that we wanted to keep the motivations of the team pushing towards the strategy that we develop.

We provide regular updates to our crowd through the crowd cube platform. We do obviously quarterly updates. We do monthly updates. We do an AGM towards every investment round. We usually do a online meeting with anyone that would like to join. We haven’t found it particularly onerous. I think we’ve got. A really strong structure around how we interact with them, which helps, but we get a lot of support from them.

Having a network of 2000 people that’s championing your business is phenomenal. So you took

Antoine: what’s usually a B2C tool and you made it a powerful B2B tool. That’s an interesting one. In itself, but also the fact that you were able to raise shows that sometimes what a company is might be shy to go out and leverage the kind of momentum around water, you’re proving that the path can work that first fundraising, you said, allowed you to build the prototype or bit more than a prototype.

So you had a cool name to name. It is the mule. Right?

Tim Naughton: Yeah, we call it the Mule. The product, we call it SAM50 Small and Mighty, and the technology is called the High Batch Technology. But yeah, we call that system specifically the Mule because it’s been up and down the country doing lots of different trials and it’s the one we use whenever we get a customer’s water.

We test it on there and show them the results.

Antoine: Let’s dig into where the mule has been around the country. What’s the first project you ship it to?

Tim Naughton: So the first place that the mule went to was in Cornwall with Cornish Lithium, and we got some great results with Cornish Lithium, not only just showing our efficiency, but showing the efficacy of this process, concentrating lithium, and that was going up front of their direct lithium extraction process.

Antoine: So you were the pre treatment in So they have a brine with 60 ish to 100 ish ppm of lithium, which you pre treat so that the DLE could then extract the subsequent step.

Tim Naughton: It’s a very famous project. The project that we were working on at that point in time was a little bit lower in concentration. We were treating some of the higher groundwater, but now we’re working on really, really intense groundwaters with our most recent shareholder, SQM.

I can’t tell you too much about what we’re doing, but it’s some really interesting research. We’ll go into it

Antoine: later. I understand why you can’t say too much, but I will still ask and you will still be allowed to say you can’t say much. But when you say lower concentrations, what were the concentrations you were dealing with at

Tim Naughton: Cornish Lithium?

I can’t publicly disclose the concentrations of lithium that we were working on, but the groundwater had a 6, in it, totally dissolved solids.

Antoine: I’m asking because one of the application which is on the rise right now is produced water lithium extraction in Middle East, but also in Canada and pretty much all the places that have a legacy oil field.

And there, of course, whenever you speak with yearly companies, they say that the devil is in the pretreatments. I know that you’ve seen that. slightly shifted and that you no longer focus on the pre treatment, but there, would that be a potential market where you would see growth path for salinity

Tim Naughton: solutions in the future?

Produce waters. It’s on our roadmap. Our focus right now is on applications where we can deliver the benefits straight away. Because we’re bringing this technology to market, we’re looking for applications where the streams are a little bit smaller. The project with SQM and lithium. is slightly separate to our core delivery because they are obviously working on larger streams, but everything else that we’re taking on is applications where at smaller flow, there’s an immediate need for these kinds of technologies.

What was the next one where you spotted that immediate need? The next one really exciting project is ZLD in India. We’re setting up a joint venture with an evaporation company because The regulations that are being enforced out there at the moment. There’s lots of tier one automotive manufacturers based in India that are now being regulated and have to discharge their flows, some of which are relatively small.

There’s also there’s phosphate mitigation here in the UK. We’re working with Natural England and Somerset County Council to take phosphates and nitrates out of wastewater streams and One of the kind of challenges we have in the UK with our water infrastructure is we’ve got a lot of small wastewater treatment plants that have got really old technologies and old infrastructure.

So we’re going to be a bolt on to those wastewater treatment plants to clean up the effluent and take out the phosphates and nitrates.

Antoine: But that is low concentration in large flows. How does that fit with your highly concentrating technology?

Tim Naughton: It’s quite high concentrations but low flows. So the wastewater treatment sites, there’s lots and lots of remote.

water treatment sites that have small flows that need these phosphates taking out. So

Antoine: it’s not the communal big plants. Exactly. You are on the distributed side and then you’re an add on to the distributed side. I see. What size would that be if you roll it out commercially? Is it the same than the Mule?

Sorry, I’m using that name now because

Tim Naughton: I get it. Now it’s called the Mule. So it’s the step up from that. So you saw the pressure vessels that were next to the Mule. Mm hmm. Large of scale. 60, it’s got a 16 inch pressure vessel that houses our. Pressure exchanger. The system itself is going to be a hundred meters cubed a day.

So phosphate and

Antoine: nitrate, that’s one application. You’ve been into vertical farming as well. Yeah. What’s

Tim Naughton: the

Antoine: application there?

Tim Naughton: Zero liquid discharge. So we were working with grow up farms down in Kent. We were a bolt on to all their existing water streams. They had five different water streams that were feeding into our technology and they want to reduce their water consumption as much as possible.

So we achieved with them 98 percent water recovery in the field. So I’m me. 2 percent of their wastewater was having to go to discharge. Kent is one of the most water stressed regions in the UK. So there’s a lot of political pressure for them to reduce their water consumption. That fits within our ZLD pillar.

So we’ve got three main pillars of the business that we’re working in. Mineral extraction, water reuse, and zero liquid discharge. So what that means is there’s either. A company’s got to feed water, a water source that they want to conserve, make the most out of, turn a lot into fresh water. They’ve got a water that contains something valuable that they want to extract, or they’ve got a water that’s problematic and they can’t just discharge it straight away.

And so your ideal customer has all of the three together? Exactly. Does that exist? It does. It does actually. Yeah. So particularly in, say, some of the Indian applications we’re working on, they need the water because there’s massive water stress. All you need to do is pick up a newspaper in Tamil Nadu and see how much they’re down 20 percent of their water supply.

Massive stresses. They’ve got tight regulations because of the pollution that’s all over the country. There’s valuable minerals within the water they’re looking to extract.

Antoine: We were both at the good water summit this week and. In many of the early stage company presentations, there was this TRL. Doesn’t speak so much to me, but it sounds it speaks to investors.

So I try to cope with that. What would be

Tim Naughton: your TRL? So we’re currently at TRL 8, the highest TRL in the water industry. And it’s defined quite differently in the water industry to other industries is TRL 9. We’re at a very high TRL 8. And the only thing that Is needed to go from TRL 9 is to have a system operational on site with a customer.

We will be at TRL 9 this year because we’re deploying four different systems into the field. Four systems in the field? So the one with Suez is one? What are the three others? There’s the one with Suez, there’s the one with phosphate, there’s one with SQM, and there’s the one that’s going to India.

Antoine: Where I was heading with my TRL question is, you’re a TRL 8, Company which given your time and it’s really pretty impressive i can remove the pretty which given your time and is impressive but still you’ve raised from to crowdfunding from a seed round from a series a which all together is about two million and you’re.

At the same time, addressing a need in India, addressing a need in Chile, having something pretty soon in France, something in the UK, don’t you fear to spread yourself too thin?

Tim Naughton: It’s a really good question. First of all, we’ve raised 4 million in total. It was 2 million before our Series A. And it was 2 million out of the series.

One of the really lucky things that we were talking about earlier is all our sales been inbound, we’ve been lucky enough to select the ones where there’s enough pressure on the customers to actually fully fund the trials that we’re doing and the development to deploy it. What a lot of startup companies in the water sector do is they get their technology out into the field.

On trials that aren’t funded to gather the data about exactly how it performs. Now we’ve made really, really good progress over the last few years, but we could have done it a lot quicker if we weren’t adamant that we were going to go into the applications that was valuable enough for people to actually pay for the development.

Obviously, we have to be careful with our cash. We’re investor funded. And making sure this business stays afloat is our number one priority. Our cash forecast looks really good. Cause everything we’re doing is fully funded.

Antoine: You just signed with, with Suez. You told me before we started recording that it was a two year process.

From what you say, I assume they came to you. What happens within those two years? What are the discussions about? They have a need and you’re discussing that need. What takes two years and what is the decisive criterion which makes a pretty Big water giant like Suez say, I need to team up with that cool

Tim Naughton: Birmingham startup.

The commercial conversations with Suez have been going on for two years, but my relationship with Suez actually goes back to 2019 part of the IQ journey. So I met the team that we were working with initially at the 2019 international desalination association conference. They. Then, unbeknown to me, kept tabs on Salinity and our progress, and once they’d seen that we did the trial with Cornish Lithium, they popped their hand up and said, hey, we should, we should have a look at this.

When we started talking to them, water reuse was the main thing on their agenda. But since we started the discussions, the pressure on their organization for water reuse has accelerated dramatically. And obviously there’s been lots of phases to it, but we did, um, case study with them, where we produced some mathematical models, because that’s one of the tools we have to project our Efficiency.

Then we did a test for them on synthetic water that matched the mathematical models to show how accurate they were. Then they came over to visit us and sent us some of their wastewater from the facility that we’re actually now going to be trialing the system at, compared that again to the mathematical models.

And then there was a huge change within, uh, Suez’s organization, a big shift in strategy and water reuse came to the top of their agenda. There was a big shift up in kind of how we worked with them, which led us to the point of signing the MOU last week with them. This week with them, that might not sound like a lot, but working with, uh, these water giants takes a long time to go through the mechanisms.

And also we were funded for the work that we did, which took quite a long time as well to get the development funded because there weren’t necessarily the accessibility to the funds for them to work with an early stage business.

Antoine: You’re not helping me here because I get contacted regularly by early stage water companies, which asks for some advice.

And pretty important here I’m no one to give advice but I’m happy to give advice if people ask me. And usually a lot of them have on their roadmap, we should go talk with a giant. Be it Veolia, Xilin, be it whoever. And do a pilot with them and then they’ll get convinced by our technology and they’ll adopt it.

And I’m always, always, always Always advocating against that. Don’t do this. It’s not as straightforward. You’re gonna get lost. It’s gonna take ages and probably the economics of it won’t align.

Tim Naughton: You’re just proving me 200 percent wrong. What’s the trick? If you talk to them, there’s not necessarily the pressing need for them to adopt your technology.

If they come to you, there’s a real interest in what you’re doing. And it really fits within their strategy. One of the key things that we stay true to within our conversations, cause we always get dragged into conversations about what they’re doing, where they think the technology fits. So you know what your USP is.

These are, and you know how it delivers. So you’ve got to make sure that they’re putting the technology in the place that you see the benefit. So when you get to the end of the trial, you know you’re going to be delivering the results where there’s a big step change between the technology they’re using and your technology.

Antoine: There’s a concentrated lot of wisdom in which just said so at the first step. Is it because everybody wants to be first, to be second, so your Cornish lithium highlights got them the confidence to think I might be missing out if I’m not reaching out because I get how it develops. pretty smoothly from they spotted the value in you.

What I’m trying to figure out is how did

Tim Naughton: they spot the value in you? That’s a really good question. The people that I spoke with within the organization when I met them in 2019. Can you name them? No. They already knew about the academic research that was going on. Our process, this batch process, the capability of it has been Documented as a huge step change in reverse osmosis, if you can simplify that process enough to actually implement it.

So I think within organizations, there’s nuggets of knowledge about what’s coming through. And when they see something that they recognize, say someone’s actually cracked that nut, I think it sparks a few inside people. I mean, what you need is the champion within the organization that picks it up and runs with it and says, No, we need to do this until they get listened to.

And that’s what we had.

Antoine: Which brings me to the second half. of your wisdom, which is you need to establish what’s the status quo. So that’s when you run your pilots, the benefits or the downfall, because you never know what will happen, but that it’s obvious. So when will you be kicking off your project with Suez and what’s the starting point and what do

Tim Naughton: you think you can achieve?

This is really exciting. When you’re comparing technologies within the water sector. It’s really hard to get a like for like comparison, which makes raising investment incredibly challenging because people tend not to understand the water sector and they say, show me exactly how much better it is. And unless it’s been running on exactly the same water at exactly the same time, you can’t draw a direct comparison.

So with Suez, we’re out. Upscaling the technology. You saw some of the work that we’re doing downstairs to increase the throughput of our system. Engineering development fully paid for. We’re then installing the system side by side with a conventional reverse osmosis to draw the back to back comparison.

And, The benefits we’re looking for, it’s all detailed within our MOU, increases in efficiency, increases in recovery and reduction in chemical use. How long will the pilot run? So the pilot’s set to run for six months. During that time, we’re going to be testing under a whole different range of parameters because they’re different ways that the OPEX can be beneficial because we have so many different factors that we impact.

We might save electricity in one area, but if we run it in this way, we’ll save more chemicals.

Antoine: So for that. Pilots, they’re paying you to pilot. The pilot is a bigger version of the mule, but it stays yours. It’s theirs. They’ve bought it. They bought the pilots. Yeah. Okay. That truly makes you into TRL 9.

It’s your commercial reference. So actually from this Monday on, you are TRL 9. Very pleased to say so. Yes. Is that the way you approach all these projects that they would always buy the system from you? Or would you also sometimes being like an external research arm? We want to keep

Tim Naughton: our team focused on what they can deliver.

What we know we can deliver. We can deliver really, really well is the technology and the ip. That’s where our experience is. We could build a team that manufactures the technology and focuses on all the upstream and downstream processes, but that’s not really where we see our value as such, we don’t want to develop a business of that scale.

We want to increase our value. And get the technology out there as quickly as possible. So we’re looking to work with the companies that can help us deploy the technology and get it into the market where it’s really needed.

Antoine: That’s a super interesting transition you offer me here because you’re the founder of the company, but you’re also the chief technical officer of the company.

So even though you’ve given great business advice from. The beginning of this conversation, you’re actually the technical brain of the company. Let’s define your scope. What is it which you would consider core, which you’re doing today, which you will still be doing in the future? And what are the peripherals where you’re looking for partners?

Tim Naughton: At the moment, what we’re focusing on is upscaling the product into this 100 meters cubed application and making sure it’s as efficient as possible and it delivers the benefits that the customer wants. That’s going to be our trajectory for quite a while. So our business is going to focus on increasing the efficiency of the product And developing the IP that’s going to keep the product well protected.

As. We scale up the technology. We don’t want to be the one that has the boots on the ground operating the kit or the one that’s really in charge of the supply chain, because the reality is we have a process innovation, not a new technology. The operators that are out there operating reverse osmosis systems, they can operate this.

There’s only small changes. There’s people out there doing that really, really well. And the manufacturing, the supply chain for this technology is really well established. There’s nothing new we’re bringing. There’s nothing new we need apart from how we manufacture our piston or not even how we manufacture it, just the design that goes into the piston.

So. Our core is really going to be on upscaling the technology, making sure it’s working efficiently and keeping it protected

Antoine: for the benefit of the people listening to that if they have a manufacturing plant in India or in Chile, they might be your partners because for them it’s pretty standard. As you said, they have to have a little bit of adaptation to your piston, but you would help them build the

Tim Naughton: first one.

And then they can be a partner. Exactly. And that, and that’s what we’re doing right now. So at the moment in India, we’re working with our partner to develop the manufacturing line. We’re bringing in expertise from the reverse osmosis industry to get the right components in place. We’re really not reinventing the wheel here.

This is reverse osmosis. Just better.

Antoine: Let me try to crack the SQM nut and stop me whenever you really can’t answer. SQM Lithium Venture is invested in you, which would make one believe it’s a lithium investment, but invested in the water business. So far, I get it right. Correct. They are in a place, obviously, where water is in tension.

It’s the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth. And even though one can argue that the entire mining sector in Atacama only takes 3 percent of the water resource, it is a burden and it can lead to quite a complex conversations. I’m not the biggest expert of Chile. I don’t want to pretend I’m something I’m not, but that’s what you can read in reports and online.

If it’s a water project, I would assume it’s about making more water available to whether the community or reducing the water impact of the plants. Do I get that one right? Yep. Would that be a first step into maybe then coming back to your other of the three focuses, which is extraction of interesting stuff inside, which then might be lithium.

Tim Naughton: If I just rewind a little and give a kind of overview of our relationship with SQM and how it developed, they had an investment fund where one of their verticals was to invest in water technologies and they found us and they’re really interested in what our water business could bring to their portfolio.

There’s definitely work we can do with and we have discussed around kind of reducing water stress. In Chile, recovering water from their processes and treating groundwater for different communities. During our conversations, they noticed that there was something that we could do for them that wasn’t directly around the water side of our business and would require development, but could have a real step change impact within their processes.

We’re now Separate to the investment, working with them on a project to develop that non directly water delivery technology and in the future, there are things that we’ve discussed with them that we’d like to do for the community side and reduce water stress. But we want to focus our resource on the technical development with them and then go into the delivery of water.

Antoine: So you will be more in Chile in the close future? Yeah. Definitely.

Tim Naughton: Yeah, we’re, we’re, we’re building a pilot for them that’s going to go out to Chile probably early next year, possibly late end of this year, but I think it’s more likely to be the early next year. Atacama or Antofagasta? Starting in Antofagasta.

Antoine: Super interesting stuff. The day you’re in a position where you can share more about it, I’d be super curious because SQM has quite, a list of cool stuff they’re working on including some stuff which is Very out on a limb compared to their core business. I know that they are looking at hydrogen They’re looking at other fields.

I think here i’m not breaking any secrets. We’ve talked about your pilots We’ve talked about your projects and all of them have been successful I don’t believe you there has to be at least one moment where you found out. Oh As cool as the technology is, that is a limit. Or we thought with our computational capacity that this would work and it didn’t.

Did any of that happen to you?

Tim Naughton: When you’re operating membrane technology in the field, there’s known challenges that you’re going to face. Predominantly around the fouling, and if you go into it with your eyes open, knowing that these challenges are there, you’re on a fact finding mission. It’s not a failure at that point.

We have experienced fouling in the field, but what that tells us is we need to go out and find a pre treatment that works on this. It was an exploratory mission, or we’re seeing how far we can push the recovery, and what we’ve found is we can push it. A lot further than conventional reverse osmosis, there have been times where we’ve hit things in the field, but we expected to hit them, so I wouldn’t consider them to be a failure.


Antoine: reason I’m asking is not to push you in a corner, it’s just about, if there’s one thing every water professional agrees is that silver bullets don’t exist, so it’s just important to get reminded that those cool merits, happen because you’ve chosen your battles and you’ve chosen fields where you have the right alignment of your internal skills but also the technology and the stuff you’re piggybacking on which brings me to a future oriented question.

Now you’re working very closely with at least two giants. SQM is a giant of its kind in its own field and Suez is a water giant. As a still early stage company, is that an incredible chance or

Tim Naughton: is it also a bit scary? It’s a bit of both. It’s a massive endorsement of the technology and the team because one of the things I really want to highlight is the team that we have behind this technology.

The reason we’ve made this progress is because the team that we have is incredibly highly skilled and incredibly dedicated and we’ve all got a shared vision. They’re not the only giants we’re working with. They’re the only giants we’re public with. There’s going to be. Definitely more to come in the

Antoine: water world outside the water world

Tim Naughton: both red colored green color I can’t say You know we have As much protection as we can in place.

So say one of the things we have is an IP manager within our business. We’ve got a strategy behind how we protect it. We’ve got a lot of experience commercially. I mean, all you need to do is look at our board and look at the kind of firepower we have on the advice of how to manage these relationships and what we need to put in place.

So I think our main goal for this business is to get the technology out there as quickly as possible. There’s a massive pressing need across. A whole range of sectors up to government level around the world to adopt technologies like this. So we’ve got to do it now. We’ve got to take some risks, but they’re calculated risks.

The team thinks long and hard about what relationships we go into and how to manage them every step.

Antoine: You’ve raised about 4 million, as you said, up to your series A included. What’s next? A massive series B, which allows you to go like down all the verticals of identified, staying on the bootstrapped path to say, we want to be.

Cautious and build over time, but you just mentioned risk. So I guess that’s not the road you’re going down or taking one of the giants and joining them to be the cool arm, but within their body.

Tim Naughton: We’ve got a clear vision that we want to get this technology out there and we want it to be profitable. We want to return for our shareholders.

We don’t think we’re going to need to raise again because everything that we’ve done has been fully funded. The ambition for us is to licensed. A portion of the IP in a not too distant future. In theory, we could be cash neutral or cash forecasts from here on out, but there’s, it’s a engineering technology.

There’s a lot of known unknowns between now and then.

Antoine: Let me just repeat that. You don’t intend to raise any more money. We don’t intend to. And you intend to be at least break even from now on. That’s the plan. You tick all the boxes of things which never happen. So what’s the trick?

Tim Naughton: Great, great team. Good strategy.

Antoine: Coming back to the very root, why do you found. As a CTO, and do you take a CEO with you? I’m just trying to, to, to understand that the way it’s built, because it sounds like you’ve established a blueprint that many

Tim Naughton: will want to replicate. I think you mentioned culture there, and that’s really at the core of everything we do here.

We’re not a hierarchical organization. Everyone in this business has equal say, and we make decisions together. I was an academic coming out of university when I started this business. Very aware of where my strengths were, what I knew I could deliver. So the team that we’ve built around us is a group of people that have exceptional skills at doing the areas they’re focusing on.

Our CEO, Richard Bruges, is very, very well experienced at commercializing engineering technology. He’s the ideal person to be holding the conversations that he holds. What do you build? On the long run,

Antoine: what will tell you in five

Tim Naughton: years or in 10

Antoine: years that you succeeded?

Tim Naughton: Firstly, it would be that batch RO is one of those prevalent technologies, technology of choice within desalination across a whole range of applications.

And for myself personally, and not just myself, sorry, I’ll correct that. There’s um, there’s a lot of people within the team that are motivated for this as well. Using this humanitarian aid, going back to the roots. coupling it with solar power, getting it to remote communities that are really stressed, where you can see the direct impact on human life, this technology will bring.

Antoine: You would have that impact on the destination and all these implications and you would leverage that impact. To go into this renewable desalination field, which also would then be a solution for all the remote places without access to water. A commendable path, but it’s also an ambitious path.

Tim Naughton: And that’s exactly why we’ve, uh, left it till the end.

It was always the motivation. There’s a couple of reasons why that’s challenging. It’s challenging from a financial perspective. Building an organization that does good. doesn’t get you very far financially. And also from a technical perspective, it’s really challenging to actually put systems in remote communities, build a supply chain, and deliver the support that’s required for it.

If we want to do it, that’s not something we want to do for profit. It’s something we want to do for off our own back. So the ideal scenario is we make te the technology of choice within the desalination sector. And just to say, you can now clearly see that CCRO is the technology of choice within the desalination sector.

Our technology operates very similar to CCRO. It’s just a huge amount more efficient. There’s a natural progression with that. We want to build a business that’s profitable enough that we can put some of the funds. back in to delivering environmentally friendly humanitarian aid projects.

Antoine: Impressive path, impressive goal.

Everybody would join me in wanting you to succeed in all of that. So thanks a lot for everything you shared in this deep dive. If that is fine for you, I would run it off with a rapid fire questions.

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Rapid fire questions:

What is the toughest challenge in your opinion for water tech startups? Funding. Definitely

Tim Naughton: funding was the challenge for you. It sounds like it was not so much of a, uh, a challenge. We’ve, we’ve raised money successfully, but it’s a drain on your resource. Going out and raising money takes a lot of time and a lot of attention and it’s also stressful.

We’ve had four funding rounds, five in the last three years, which means in the bank at one point in time we’ve had what, nine months cash at most? That’s uh, big burden when you’re employing really high skilled people and they’re dedicating themselves to this business.

Antoine: What would be your best single piece of advice for the founders and managers of the about 1, 000 early stage water

Tim Naughton: startups?

I think it’s the same advice that most people give with their entrepreneurs. Don’t give up. It feels like you’re under too much pressure and you might not succeed sometimes, but keep to your ambitions, you will.

Antoine: There’s a specificity about the water sector, which is that companies don’t die. Startups in the tech field boom or die.

In the water world, they don’t boom that much, but they don’t die either. Which would make you think that maybe not giving up is maybe a trait of this industry, but maybe also it has downsides because people will stay

Tim Naughton: with their idea for too long. I’d want to think on that for a little bit, honestly, because one of the main challenges we have within the sector is that innovation isn’t picked up quick enough and what we don’t need is to.

discourage people from driving their innovations into the market. We need to encourage the companies that are making the difference within the sector. I mean, the big companies to adopt these technologies and try them out.

Antoine: But your answer has another interesting element in it, which is the adoption comes from the big tech companies.

Many try to get the adoption right with the end user. And that is a tricky path because they are even more reluctant to take risks. They only have one facility and that’s the one they don’t want to play with

Tim Naughton: so much. It’s a really long path. It’s really hard because With water technologies, they tend to be really disruptive to people’s processes.

There’s a lot of pressure that the customers, the end customers are under to get, choose the right technology. If one of these processes falls down, that’ll have a really big impact on their operation. If you want to be selling, into the customer directly. You have to not only really make sure it works, but you need to have enough credibility and enough reputation that when the champion for your technology in the organization takes it to their boss, they can say, this is being delivered by this person and their higher ups will go, Okay, yeah, we’ve heard of them, that’ll actually work.

Or if it doesn’t work, we can, uh, they’ll We can, we can challenge them on it. What’s the drop of knowledge you wish more investors knew about the water sector? How quickly the markets are moving. Yesterday’s market doesn’t look like tomorrow’s market. What was your most unexpected partnership and what did it bring you?

India, definitely. Uh, joint venture. The space for this technology, where it can have the most impact for the customer, is up front of an evaporator. And we were approached by an evaporator company in India that had really, really shared ideals to our,

Antoine: us.

Tim Naughton: Super short, profitability or growth? I don’t know. No, no, no profitability.

What’s the next profile you’ll hire? I think it’s going to be a marketing assistant. So you’re doubling down on marketing.

Antoine: Interesting.

Tim Naughton: We’re doubling down on marketing, someone that can help us build content and get the messaging out with what we’re doing. And marketing is really key. We’re working with a lot of different players in a lot of different sectors, and we’ve got a lot of material to produce and a lot of messaging to get right.

At the moment we are high skilled but under resourced, I think.

Antoine: When you hire, are you looking for sector experience or for startup experience? Depends on the role and the time. Open new markets or double down on the existing ones? Open new markets. What’s the tool nobody speaks about but you couldn’t live without?

Tim Naughton: Oh, it’s probably my snowboard, but I’m not sure it’s a tool.

Antoine: Okay, I knew there had to be a flaw with you. Snowboard, come on. Oh, come on. Ski? That’s cool. Snowboard is I’m not, we’ll have to take this offline. What’s the single piece of insight your ideal customer

Tim Naughton: profile needs to hear right now? Our technology isn’t a new technology.

It’s a process innovation. The technology is established, we know it works and the supply chain is already there. What are you desperately needing and want to raise an open call for right now? It’s been a big week this week. We’ve signed an MOU with Suez, we’ve formalized our JV in India. And we’ve been to the Global Water Summit.

So I think the thing I’m desperately in need of is a mattress and a pillow.

Antoine: I also noticed that all the ones I know which were at the Global Water Summit suddenly stopped responding since yesterday. So I think you must not be the only one in that situation right now. And last one, what can

Tim Naughton: and should I do for you?

We want to get the word out. We want people to know who we are, what we’re doing, and if we can, uh, Do a follow up with you in a year’s time, say. We’d love to see your audience again.

Antoine: I’ve seen the mule today. I guess in one year’s time, the mule will be just bigger because it will have the new type of stuff on it.

And you will have an even bigger stuff next to it for building the next one. So I sure don’t want to miss that. Happy to do that. Yeah, that’d be great. Well, Tim, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks a lot. And if people want to follow up with you, where should I redirect them the best?

Tim Naughton: Redirect them straight to our website.

All our contact details are on there. Just hit, get us at info at Salinity Solutions.

Antoine: Like always, the website is in the show notes. The email is in the show notes. You’re taking your risk. Uh, I’m not the one encouraging spams, but it was a pleasure. And I’m looking forward to have that follow up with you at some point down the line.

Absolute pleasure. Thank you for having us. Maybe even in Atacama, who knows? Hopefully.

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