UQ wastewater innovation vies for international water prize

Thursday, 23 February, 2012

University of Queensland (UQ)-based start-up company Bilexys has been announced as a finalist in the US$200,000 Imagine H20 2011 Prize for Water Start-ups.

Bilexys was formed by UniQuest to commercialise an innovative technology developed at the Advanced Water Management Centre (AWMC) within the university. The company approaches wastewater treatment as an opportunity to biologically convert the organics within wastewater into high-value chemical products, including sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide. Chemicals produced by the Bilexys method are potentially less expensive and have a lower CO2i footprint relative to traditional chemical manufacturing techniques, providing a significant economic and environmental driver for the commercialisation and industrial adoption of the technology.

This is the third year that the San Francisco-based non-profit organisation Imagine H2O has offered the prize to encourage entrepreneurs to develop business opportunities from water challenges. The prize includes cash and in-kind services, including participation in Imagine H2O’s Accelerator Program, which aims to commercialise innovative ideas by connecting partners, customers and investors.

As a finalist, Bilexys will receive technical and financial mentorship from Imagine H2O prior to making a final presentation to the judging panel this month. Bilexys is one of only two Australian and non-US-based finalists in the Pre-revenue Track (total equity and convertible equity investment to date under US$1.5 million). The winners from a shortlist of nine finalists will be announced at a showcase event on 20 March.

Bilexys’ Business Development Manager, Paul Barrett, said the announcement of Bilexys’ achievement to this level in the competition has helped to focus the company’s attention on potential industry partners based overseas.

“We entered the Imagine H2O Prize because of the exposure it offered as much as for the prospect of winning prize money to further develop the technology for the market,” Dr Barrett said.

“The 21 judges assessing Bilexys include cleantech experts and venture capitalists, so to have this panel looking closely at our business plan is a very encouraging step towards building our profile in the US, which makes up the largest share of the global water utilities and wastewater treatment market.”

This latest achievement for Bilexys reflects UQ’s strengths in sustainability research leading to economic and environmental returns for a major industrial concern worldwide, said UniQuest Managing Director David Henderson.

“The Bilexys commercialisation story is a good example of how Australian university research can collaborate with industry and deliver returns on public funding to develop viable applications for scientific discoveries,” he said.

UniQuest has helped the AWMC develop a strong intellectual property protection and business strategy, which led to its winning the UQ Business School’s $100,000 Enterprize business planning competition. The Bilexys technology is currently under licence from UQ, with several subsequent patent applications strengthening the intellectual property value for prospective investors and industry partners seeking a competitive advantage. Bilexys is also operating a pilot plant at a major Australian pulp and paper company, producing sodium hydroxide from its wastewater.

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