IPO Corner: Beyond The Water Wars

The Black Market is business done outside government-sanctioned channels. Usually, when you think about the black market, you think of really dangerous stuff… weapons, controlled substances, or even valuable information. But… there’s another item on the black market that is lesser known, and rapidly increasing in value. It’s something we touch, taste, and smell every single day, and it’s vital to our very existence: water.

Last summer, an event happened that isn’t as rare as you might think, and it could foreshadow events to come if we don’t solve some of our water problems. On a hot June day, on Mexico’s Federal Highway 40, just northeast of Monterrey, armed men hijacked a truck full of 1,600 containers of drinkable water. According to State authorities in Nuevo León, it’s valuable because it’s in a place where water policies dictate that residents get only six hours of running water each day.

And we’re no longer thinking it couldn’t happen here, in our neighborhoods. Authorities are worried that these water activities could spill over our borders. And we’re already seeing some troubles in places like Arizona where, just recently, the city of Scottsdale cut off Rio Verde Foothills from the municipal water supply. Water problems are here, not just at the doorstep. Water shortages here and there are part of a network… a network telling a story.

No More Arguments

To be blunt, we need to do less arguing about the water, and more brainstorming about how to fix our predicament. Let us give you some numbers… according to the most recent UN climate report published by the IPCC, around 10% of the global population lives in places where water is at high or critical stress levels. If you are standing around drinking beer with nine of your buddies, that means, statistically, one of you is living somewhere that water is hard to get.

In any given month of the year, up to 3.5 billion people live under conditions of water stress. That’s almost half the people on earth. And it’s not just about the water that people drink, it’s the water the animals and insects and plants drink… it’s the very lifeblood of the planet. Researchers and scientists assert that we have enough water, but that we currently manage it poorly. According to them, technological innovation will play a large role in solving the problem.

A perfect example of these technologies and innovations is Membrion, a Seattle-based ceramic desalination membrane manufacturer. This company has nailed it when it comes to thinking differently about water, and they recently raised $7 million in Series B funding to help with their mission of water recovery. Water recovery accomplished via flexible, ceramic ion exchange membranes able to recover up to 98% of water in harsh conditions.

Founded in 2016, what’s special about what Membrion is doing is that they set out to specifically tackle industrial wastewater… which the world has a whole lot of. They saw that most hard-to-treat discharge had to be trucked around, and that’s dangerous. As an alternative, Membrion’s membranes allow metals, salts, minerals, and other problematic things to be removed from water right on-site.

This method immediately addresses cost and risk associated with moving tainted liquid via truck. They’ve tapped into something special in this moment, because we need solutions like this… circumstances are forcing us to care and follow through on that caring with our actions. The round of funding was led by led by PureTerra Ventures, and had participation from Freeflow, GiantLeap Capital, Safar Partners, and existing investors.

Where The Market Goes

We don’t think water is as cut-and-dry as it seems, and that’s because discoveries we’re making today, will spill over into the water space of tomorrow. For example, researchers at University College London and University of Cambridge have recently discovered a new type of ice. This special ice is what’s known as amorphous, meaning it has disorganized molecules and closely resembles liquid water. This type of ice is rare on earth, but plentiful in space because it’s so darn cold.

They decided to name it medium-density amorphous ice (MDA), and said it looks like a fine white powder. Excitingly, they found that, when it was warmed and recrystallized, it released extraordinary amounts of heat… enough to trigger tectonic motions and “icequakes”. That’s insanely powerful. We can envision a scenario where some innovative mind marries new water discoveries with energy technologies and knocks all our socks off. We shall see… come back next week, we’ll have more from the IPO space!