Interview with Dragan Tutic CEO & Founder of Oneka Technologies
WT: Dragan, you were recently part of the UN Water Conference as a Top Innovator. Oneka was also the grand prize winner of the Innovation Award from the International Desalination Association. Congratulations!
Please tell us about your journey, and give us an overview of Oneka Technologies and your mission.
Tutic: These various recognitions are always greatly appreciated and encourage our team to continue to make every effort to accomplish our mission.
Businesses and engineering projects have always been my passions. Now with mounting concern over climate change disasters, I am devoting my life to facing them with the combined power of engineering and entrepreneurship to create impactful solutions. With the right team and the right resources oriented to the same mission, incredible things can be accomplished.
Sustainable and affordable desalination is critically needed.
Oneka is a Canadian company developing and commercializing autonomous desalination systems that use the power of waves to produce fresh water.
Our mission is to make the oceans the most sustainable and affordable source of drinking water, by using the movement of the sea’s waves to power a pumping, filtration, and desalination system.
Our desalination units can provide water for between 20 and 1500 people per day depending on consumption. Its solutions provide a source of water that requires no electricity, land-based real estate and generates no greenhouse gases.
WT: What was the impetus behind founding Oneka?
Tutic: Ten years ago, while travelling to Corsica I was struck by two questions -- “Where does the water I drink come from?” and “Why are we not using the oceans, an easily accessible reservoir as our main water source?”
I travelled around the globe upon first founding the company in 2015 to meet those facing water scarcity and climate change challenges.
The problem is worsening and is already being felt in many regions of the world.
WT: The world’s water resources are composed of 97% ocean saltwater. There are conventional desalination technologies, but they are controversial, how is Oneka positioned to improve on those issues?
Tutic: Current conventional desalination plants are controversial due to their high consumption of energy, the resulting high operating costs, and their impact on the surrounding marine ecosystems.
Many island or remote communities cannot afford conventional desalination plants and are looking for alternative solutions to their water supply
Knowing that many populations live within 200km (about 124.27 mi) of the coast, seawater desalination using the renewable energy contained within the largest water reservoir on earth seems to be the best solution to increase the resilience of communities.
Oneka offers a modular and drought-proof solution that has the capacity to meet coastal needs, from small remote communities to water-intensive industries, and large municipalities.
Oneka has developed a training program within communities for local technicians to operate and maintain units. In addition, we educate these communities on the importance of using a sustainable solution for the well-being of future generations.
WT: Please describe the technology and how it works.
Tutic: Oneka’s surface buoys are tethered to anchors on the ocean floor. The oscillating motion of the waves is harnessed to actuate a water pump. Seawater is pressurized when the buoys rise and are propelled towards a process plant in which water is filtered and desalinated through an energy-optimized reverse osmosis process.
The low-salinity brine is harmlessly discharged back to the sea. Fresh water is transmitted to the shore using residual wave energy in a submerged pipeline, which can then be stored or directly distributed.
Instrumentation and telemetry are powered by a solar/battery pack and data are available online in real-time.
WT: Tell us about the types of units you currently deploy and what areas you can serve.
Tutic: Oneka Technologies has developed various ranges of wave-powered sustainable desalination solutions to meet different water needs.
First, our IceCube units are used for emergency relief applications without the need for highly skilled people. Each unit fits on a standard crate and can provide the equivalent of one pallet of water bottles per day.
With our second class of Iceberg units that produce up to 50 m3 (about half the volume of a one-car garage) of fresh water per day, we can undertake water-as-a-service projects with small coastal communities, industries, and resorts. Our key markets are the Caribbean, Chile, and California.
Finally, (still under development) the Glacier units will be able to produce up to 500 m3 of fresh water per day.
WT: What are the benefits of your system?
Tutic: Oneka Technologies will impact all dimensions of sustainable development:
- No GHG emissions: By using Oneka’s off-grid and decentralized solution rather than conventional desalination, 1 ton of CO2 is saved each year for each cubic meter of water produced daily. The installed systems are autonomous and do not require electricity or other sources of energy to deliver water to our clients.
- No land space: Our modular systems limit land footprint which is an important barrier for solar desalination projects in areas where coastline land is expensive or protected. Being several meters from the coast, the buoy array has little or no visual impact.
- Responsible brine: Compared to conventional desalination plants that can discharge brine that is 100 to 150% saltier than seawater, Oneka produces brine that is only 30% saltier. By having distanced intakes and outfalls at the different units offshore, brine is also naturally discharged over a vast area, and the action of the waves and sea currents accelerated mixing.
- Safe intake: Our 60-micron mesh prevents harmful impacts on marine ecosystems.
- Social: Creation of local jobs: Oneka’s goal is to hire and train all local staff to ensure the operation and maintenance of the units.
- Economic: No capital cost: Oneka provides water as a service with its Iceberg and Glacier units, which allows the client to have a new water source without the need to invest upfront.
WT: How did you assemble your team?
Tutic: I have surrounded myself with a multidisciplinary team of veterans from various industries including desalination and offshore marine, as well as a network of renowned business and financial partners. We now have a team of about 40 employees and work closely with a team of technical and commercial advisors. When we hire, we make sure that there is a strong interest in our mission and that we share the same values.
Oneka is a fast-growing company. We are at the stage of moving from a product development company to an international water service provider. We are building our manufacturing team, our field service and operations teams to commission and run the systems, as well as growing our commercial and management teams.
Each month we welcome a few people to the team. We are fortunate to have great traction despite the labour shortage.
WT: What can you tell us about your pilots so far?
Tutic: After 6 generations, we have developed the P- buoy class, a unit that has proven the performance, robustness, and ease of our technology. This unit, which can produce up to 10 cubic meters (about the volume of a storage unit) of fresh water per day, is now being used at our demonstration site in Chile. On this site, it is possible to see the complete installations, including the underwater pipe that brings the water to the shore.
We also have a demonstration site in Fort Pierce, Florida with our first Iceberg-class unit, which produces up to 50 m3 of fresh water per day. This buoy is strategically located to bring potential clients, partners, or investors from the Caribbean.
Finally, we have planned a 12-month pilot project with the City of Fort Bragg in California, funded by the California Department of Water Resources. We are currently working with the most recognized firms in marine biology and desalination permitting processes to get permission from the authorities.
WT: And for 2023 some exciting news – the Glacier project and your project in Chile. Tell us more.
Tutic: With a consortium of partners, Oneka Technologies will design the first Glacier buoy that will be deployed along the coast of Cape Sable Island in Nova Scotia.
Following the completion of this first project, other Glacier units will be manufactured to serve the Chilean mining market.
WT: What is your vision moving forward?
Tutic: Oneka’s adoption of low-cost solutions capable of delivering significant environmental and social benefits, will get us closer to our ambition of making the desalination industry a sustainable and affordable solution for any coastal populations or industries facing water scarcity.
We invite anyone who would like to be involved with Oneka to reach out to us.
We now have offices in Florida, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Chile, and we will also build a small Californian team.
Water scarcity is a major challenge. Oneka is providing a new level of sustainability to address an urgent need.