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Cost-effective Molecularly Imprinted Polymer Based Monitoring Technologies to Improve the Performance and Reliability of Small Drinking Water Systems

Award Information
Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
Branch: N/A
Contract: EP-D-15-035
Agency Tracking Number: B144B-0025
Amount: $99,998.47
Phase: Phase I
Program: SBIR
Solicitation Topic Code: 14-NCER-4B
Solicitation Number: SOL-NC-14-00014
Solicitation Year: 2014
Award Year: 2015
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): 2015-09-01
Award End Date (Contract End Date): 2016-02-29
Small Business Information
515 Courtney Way, Suite B
Lafayette, CO 80026
United States
DUNS: 128688111
HUBZone Owned: No
Woman Owned: No
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: No
Principal Investigator
 Ted Trentler
 (303) 516-9075
Business Contact
 Mike Usrey
Phone: (303) 516-9075
Research Institution

Small drinking water systems consistently provide safe, reliable drinking water to their customers. However, challenges of such systems include lack of financial resources, aging infrastructure, cost of scale, and technical/logistical challenges associated with regulation compliance. The deployment of new cost-effective monitoring technologies, such as improved, low cost, in-line, in situ, and remote water quality sensor technology hold opportunities to substantially advance infrastructure and assure compliance and still be economically viable for integration by small drinking water system operators. Sporian Microsystems has performed significant prior work developing and fielding a range of low-cost, remote and in-line water monitoring systems for both the government and private industry. The objective of the proposed work is to develop/use molecularly imprinted polymer (MIP)-based detection materials and schemes that eliminate the ongoing cost of consumable reagents and can easily be retrofitted to expand the range of detectable contaminants in existing low cost water monitoring hardware.

In addition to small water system operators, end users for such monitoring systems would include civilian (rural, suburban, and metropolitan), homeland security and military for a range of environmental and process monitoring applications.

The primary market of concern is the small drinking water systems. According to the EPA, of the approximately 54,000 community water systems, 85 percent are consider small and very small drinking water systems. This implies approximately 45,900 systems that need to be monitored. A secondary market is private, unregulated drinking water supplies. According to a joint EPA and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) study, approximately 15 percent of Americans rely on private, unregulated drinking water supplies. According the CIA World Factbook, the U.S. population was approximately 319 million as of July 2014, so approximately 48 million Americans rely on private drinking water supplies. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there is an average of 2.58 people per household in the United States. Together, this suggests that approximately 18.5 million households relying on private water that could potentially benefit from the proposed technology. There are many additional markets. Large drinking water utilities would potentially be attracted to the technology. In addition, according the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, there were over 2 million farms and over 915 million farming acres in the United States in 2012. Agricultural water is potentially another important market. According to the EPA and DHS, there are over 16,000 wastewater treatment facilities in the United States. This does not include facilities for the treatment of industrial waste water. Wastewater is another potentially large market for Sporian-developed technology. According to the U.S. Census, there are approximately 21,000 American food processing facilities, 150,000 retail food distributors, and 500,000 food service establishments. This only represents the domestic market; the international market should be considerable and will be pursued in the future.

The potential investors or commercial partners for the technology could include Hach, Endress & Hauser, Thermo Fisher, Aspen Electronics Manufacturing, Strategic Sciences, Aperture Capital, and water utility companies.

Containments found in surface water, groundwater, and drinking water systems can adversely affect the health of plant, animals and humans, and degrade the function of commercial industries. In addition to supporting the efforts of drinking water systems to maintain contaminant monitoring compliance, the proposed technology could be ultimately utilized in a range of water monitoring applications. For example, nitrates and phosphates in drinking water pose significant health to humans, especially small children. But additional nitrates and phosphates in ground- and surface water cause disproportionate microorganism growth, which decreases the oxygen present and negatively affects water ecosystems, and produces toxins and bacteria that are harmful to humans and animals. The proposed technology potentially can be extended for use in detecting and monitoring a wide range of additional contaminants, including microorganisms, disinfectants, disinfection byproducts, additional inorganic chemicals and organic chemicals.

Sporian has performed initial market research at multiple points in the supply chain. Denver Water is utility providing water to metro Denver and surrounding suburbs. Itron provides residential, commercial and industrial metering systems for water distribution systems. Hach provides water instruments for a variety of applications. All of these stakeholders have indicated that affordable instruments to measure fertilizers in drinking water would be of commercial interest.

Sporian has previously developed and sells a range of low cost detection systems for commercial and government/municipal water monitoring applications, which will be heavily leveraged for this effort. The key contribution of this proposed effort will be to greatly broaden the range of contaminants these systems can detect (without increasing system costs) by replacing the current detection portion of the systems with more rugged and reliable Molecularly Imprinted Polymer (MIP) based materials. MIPs have been used in a variety of applications including; environmental monitoring, pharmaceutical separation and analysis, defense and security, and medicine and health care. Of particular note, MIPs have been previously demonstrated for specific binding/detection of phosphates, nitrates and in general for the recognition of anions in water.

There is a lack of in-line monitoring system options for a range of drinking water contaminants, which necessitates the use of either wet bench or lab scale chemical analysis instrumentation. Sporian’s existing monitoring systems have already proven themselves to be a low-cost, easy-to-operate, in-line alternative to such laboratory based methods. Using MIPs allows for the recognition of biological or chemical molecules with advantages over conventional electrochemical sensors, including (1) ability to be designed with high specificity (2) physical and chemical robustness, (3) resistance to acids or bases, (4) requires no consumables for operation, and (5) operable at elevated temperature and pressure, which make MIPs a promising alternative to be incorporated as sensors into monitoring systems.

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

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