Aquagga Continues to Make an Impact

October 5, 2020


Aquagga, a UAF-spinout startup company, just earned its first dollar. This came after winning the the Achievement Award in the Cascadia Cleantech Accelerator. The accelerator is designed specifically to accelerate early-stage clean technology startups.

Aquagga, founded by Jonathan Kamler, Nigel Sharp, Brian Pinkard and Chris Woodruff, is developing a suite of technologies that break down per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, from contaminated water or soil. Earlier this year the team took first place in the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge, and it won the Perkins Coie Best Innovation/Technology prize in the University of Washington’s Dempsey Startup Competition. In addition, the Aquagga team was selected as part of the 2020/2021 cohorts for the University of Washington’s Jones + Foster Accelerator Cohort and Launch Alaska’s Tech Deployment Track cohort.

“It’s felt like a series of successes from our end, which is really great despite all of the circumstances in the world. We have a lot of positive energy coming into the company,” says co-founder Brian Pinkard.

During Cascadia, the team found a lot of mentorship from clean technology companies. “Being a cleantech hardware startup, you’re playing on hard mode,” says Pinkard. “We have a technology that’s going to take a few hundred thousand dollars to get off the ground; it’s not a software company. It’s not as appealing to investors unless you get a certain level of technical validation.”

Through the Cascadia accelerator, Aquagga was connected to its first customer, which is very exciting for a startup. They were contracted to perform a feasibility test using the technology to process landfill leachate. Typically, the water that runs off the bottom of the landfill is sent to the wastewater treatment plant. In addition to the carbon reduction feasibility, they are sharing the cost in the project to show that the levels of PFAS can also be reduced.

The Aquagga team subjected the leachate to their process and the sample was sent back for assessing whether the levels of carbon and PFAS were lowered.

“It’s like the first dollar up on the wall,” Pinkard said. “It says a lot when someone is willing to pay you to do something.”

PFAS owes its breakdown-resistant properties to the carbon-fluorine bond, one of the shortest and strongest bonds known. “It’s been a problem in the making for 60 or 70 years,” Pinkard said. “The people who designed PFAS, they really designed it to last forever.”

If the Aquagga technology can be proven to remove some of the carbon and break down the PFAS in the leachate, it will be one step closer to technical validation. The PFAS breakdown requires specialized testing and the team is eagerly awaiting the lab results.

Aquagga is the only Alaska team in the Launch Alaska 2020/2021 cohort. The goal of Launch Alaska is to find a partner to conduct a pilot demonstration of the technology.

Alaska is well aware of PFAS contamination. From 1984 to 2004, a PFAS fire-retardant foam was used in fire training exercises at the Fairbanks Regional Fire Training Center. The foams used now do not contain PFAS, but the PFAS is still present in groundwater in the area.

“Having a real impact on the problems in [Alaska] would be super cool,” says Pinkard.