UV Sciences Tries to Tap Into Water Purification Industry With Smaller and Less Costly Technology

After Ultraviolet Sciences was founded in 2002, it took the little San Diego cleantech startup seven years to launch its first product. It’s a water purification device that uses ultraviolet (UV) light to sterilize microbial contaminants in drinking water.

Such UV technology has been gaining momentum in recent years as an alternative to chlorine disinfectant, CEO Ron Chaffee says. It’s a trend that might reflect the wave of interest and enthusiasm that nearly all things clean and green have been generating. Pure water encompasses an estimated $l billion-dollar global market that includes bottling and beverage plants, municipal and quasi-governmental water treatment plants, and other commercial, pharmaceutical, and industrial uses. Semiconductor manufacturers, for example, require huge quantities of ultra-pure water to rinse silicon wafers.

Pouring water into glassUsing UV technology to kill germs is an idea that’s been around for 50 years, Chaffee says. Big conglomerates like GE, Siemens, ITT, and Wedeco make most of the existing UV water purification equipment. It’s been hard for UV Sciences to compete. Chaffee says they often have trouble differentiating themselves from equipment makers, even though he sees UV Sciences as more of a technology development company. Chaffee also contends that gallon-for-gallon, the proprietary tools designed by UV Sciences founder J.R. “Randy” Cooper are 75 percent smaller than existing UV purifiers, cost 50 percent less to buy, and cost 90 percent less to operate.

Even so, Chaffee describes UV Sciences as a “capitally constrained” startup in an established industry where most of the marketing is conducted through visits with customers and trade shows, which can quickly get expensive. “I don’t think our challenges are any different than any other small startup trying to break into a mature market,” Chaffee says.

Since the company opened its office in 2004, Chaffee says UV Sciences has raised $1.7 million in seed and Series A venture funding, and collected another $816,000 through a government technology transfer grant for small business.

One sign that the little startup might be onto something emerged last week, when Chaffee gave a presentation about UV Sciences to the San Diego chapter of the MIT Enterprise Forum. Sitting in the audience were two engineers from … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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