Without water, there is no life.
It’s simple, and scientifically true.
But as with everything, water comes at a cost, and that cost is not always financial.
Enter Katrina Eckard, CEO of WEL Enterprise.
Eckard, who graduated from Milford High School and lives in Northern Kentucky, has spent the past decade researching water use as part of her economic studies. As she continued studying water and water systems, she came to the conclusion that reclaiming used water made sense, and set out to find a way to do it.
Now, she thinks she has – and others who have been involved in such projects agree.
“When I was 18 I went to Hawaii, and a year later I started studying economics,” she said. “I realized there was a huge environmental problem, economically speaking and agriculturally speaking, and that water is the biggest environmental concern.”
As her research continued, she traveled. She’s been to the Middle East, China, Cambodia and Vietnam to study water systems there.
She has studied Australia extensively, saying, “They are the driest place on Earth, but they push water technology in education and in their way of life. Because they’ve managed their water so well, they have an abundance.”
After spending some time with an HVAC company trying to figure out energy savings, Eckard had an epiphany.
“One of the first facilities I went to said, 'It’s great you can save on our energy bills, but we’ll hire you in a second if you can fix our water problem,'” she said. “After that, I dropped off the face of the earth and developed a platform for water reclamation. The biggest win for me is the environmental impact, but there’s a huge win in cost savings and consumption for all parties, but the passion comes from figuring out a way to create a win-win-win situation.”
Eckard then founded WEL (Water, Energy, Long Term Solutions) Enterprise, which has engineered a water reclamation system capable of cleaning and recycling water.
The system, which has been provisionally patented, has the potential to reclaim water for a number of industries, as well as residential use. (This means that what happened with tap water in Flint could be prevented, as according to Eckard it will filter lead and arsenic from water.)
One of the first industries she looked at was the brewing industry, which makes sense given the amount of water breweries use and the plethora of them in this area.
“The prototype was developed at a brewery, but it’s good for at least 10 different industries,“ Eckard said. “The system pays for itself in two years, then the facility takes in savings. We can create water cleaner than any city line.”
That cleanliness has drawn interest from one of the local leaders of sustainability in Dr. Burns Blaxall, director of Translational Science and co-director of the Heart Institute Research Core and Biorepository at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
“I do a fair amount of work with sustainability here at Cincinnati Children’s, and am very interested in what WEL Enterprise is doing,” Blaxall said. “It’s a great long-term solution for multiple industries. In the medical industry, if they can provide water that is of medical grade cleanliness that would be amazing.”
“I have lived in areas of the world where water reclamation could revolutionize their society,” he said. “Here in the first world, we are energy hogs. What WEL is developing with patented technologies will provide sustainability for resource and energy utilization for society.”
Douglas Lafever, who designed and installed the aquatic life support systems at the Newport Aquarium, happened to bump into Eckard at a restaurant, and they started discussing water sustainability, as they are both passionate about the subject.
“I work as a consultant, and overheard a conversation, so I went over and introduced myself. It turns out, she needed my help,” he said. He now serves as WEL’s lead engineer. “I’ve always been a systems guy – a multi-platform engineer. Solutions now require multiple layers of technology and multiple system overlay.”
“The big thing here is, and the last eight years I’ve been doing research as a hobby, the amount of contaminants in water and air are just unbelievable,” Lafever said. “We have to buy into sustainability – we’re going to choke on our own filth.”
With 27 years of experience behind him, he is committed to being a part of the solution, and believes WEL Enterprise offers one.
“WEL is an upstart, and faces a two-fold challenge: 1. People don’t want to be the first one to try something; and 2. Sustainability: There’s a not a large buy-in to that yet,” Lafever said.
“We want to get with companies before they get too large, when they are still idealistic, so sustainability becomes a part of how they operate,” he said.
That’s another reason Eckard started the prototype at a brewery.
“Look at Great Lakes,” she said, referring to the Cleveland-based brewery. “The first word on their website is sustainability – they’re what every brewery should be.”
Recently, Eckard brought her idea to an audition for the show Shark Tank, which presents ideas to potential investors. While she is bound by a confidentiality agreement not to disclose how it went, her passion for the project will see her through regardless.
“Katrina won’t say this, but she’s an innovator,” Lafever said. “We have to have corporate innovators like Katrina who come out and clean it up.”