ERLANGER, Ky. – For the past 30 years, a company called Aquionics has quietly sold ultraviolet technology to all sorts of businesses and government agencies that use it to eliminate bacteria and other pathogens in water.
Now Aquionics President Oliver Lawal is ready to make a bit more noise.
Lawal aims to grow the business – and the number of its local jobs – with some help from Confluence , a Cincinnati-based nonprofit working to expand water technology businesses in the region stretching from Northern Kentucky through Cincinnati to Dayton. (Read a full Q&A with Confluence at http://goo.gl/Pp4BEX)
Erlanger-based Aquionics has developed new UV technology using LED lamps instead of lamps that contain mercury, an element that can be highly toxic to people exposed to even small amounts.
In traditional UV lamps, mercury vapor is excited in order to produce ultraviolet light of a certain frequency that passes through the cell walls of bacteria and viruses and bacteria, sterilizing them so they can’t reproduce. That keeps the levels of those pathogens low enough that they don’t make people sick.
While the lamps are very safe and highly effective, they’re also typically quite large, and the mercury must be disposed of very carefully.
Aquionics’ new products use mercury-free LED lamps to produce the same effect, Lawal said. The LED lamps are smaller and faster than traditional mercury lamps, but they’re also more expensive to produce, Lawal said.
Still, the smaller size means they could be used in household appliances such as refrigerators to keep fruit and vegetables fresh, he said.
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“Using this, you could keep your strawberries two weeks longer,” Lawal said, or the technology could replace traditional refrigerator water filters.
The LED lamps also could be used by scientists to treat water samples much more quickly and efficiently, he said.
“I’m not sure LEDs are the panacea,” Lawal said. “But they can definitely do a lot we could not do in the last 30 years.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency office in Cincinnati, a founding member of the Confluence group, is helping Aquionics test the LED technology and understand its various applications, Lawal said.
Interest in UV technology continues to grow as water scarcity becomes a bigger problem in communities in the U.S. and around the world, said Deborah Martinez, executive director of the International Ultraviolet Association in Washington, D.C.
“I think Aquionics is going to end up being one of the top companies in UV technology,” Martinez said. “They are at the forefront of a lot of things.”
Aquionics now has about 30 employees, and Lawal expects that number to grow to as many as 80 within the next five years.
The company is a subsidiary of HALMA, a worldwide producer of safety products based in the United Kingdom. Lawal wouldn’t disclose Aquionics’ annual revenue, but he said it is one of eight companies in a HALMA division that has annual revenue of about $180 million.
Lawal sees lots of potential for growth. That’s partly because of the new LED technology that Aquionics has developed but also because there’s growing interest in UV technology to clean water in all types of industries, he said.
“There’s just less willingness to put chemicals into water and discharge that into rivers and streams,” he said.
And that, Lawal said, bodes well for Aquionics.
This story is part of a five-day series, in collaboration with WVXU, examining the region's water technology potential, which could pump billions of dollars into the local economy each year. The series airs on WVXU and is being published on WCPO.com the week of Sept. 23 through Sept. 27. Go to http://www.wcpo.com/liquid-assets for more. You can also read WVXU's stories at http://wvxu.org/term/liquid-assets.