UAF Spinout Company Wins Top EPA Award

July 9, 2021

EPA PFAS compettion

Aquagga has claimed the top prize in a federal contest to develop innovative new ways to destroy potentially harmful synthetic chemicals.

Aquagga Inc, a University of Alaska Fairbanks spin-out company, won first place in the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Innovative Ways to Destroy PFAS Challenge,” landing $40,000 and the opportunity to submit its design concepts for additional federal testing.

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoralkyl substances, known as PFAS, are found in a wide variety of products that include firefighting foam and food packaging. They are called “forever chemicals” because they don’t degrade naturally. There is evidence that PFAS exposure can lead to adverse human health effects, according to the EPA, and developing techniques to destroy the contaminants has become a growing priority.

“Aquagga is a great model for how to build a startup company in Alaska to develop UAF’s world-class research products into successful businesses,” said Mark Billingsley, director of UAF’s Office of Intellectual Property and Commercialization. “We are excited for Aquagga and look forward to working with other Alaskans interested in commercializing UAF research products.”

Aquagga, which was formed in 2019 by Nigel Sharp, Jonathan Kamler, Brian Pinkard and Chris Woodruff, negotiated an exclusive license to develop a UAF-patented technology for treating wet waste. The technique combines high temperatures, high pressure and oxygen to dispose of waste contaminated with PFAS. The team is exploring use of their technology at military, industrial and municipal sites across Alaska.

Aquagga has previously been recognized several times for the process. The company claimed the grand prize in the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge in 2020, a year after winning Accelerate Alaska’s Best New Pitch Award.

Woodruff was also recently selected as the new Arctic innovator working with the Idaho National Laboratory and UAF. The program supports early career innovators, helping them develop early-stage concepts with support from UAF and a Department of Energy laboratory of their choice.