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Water Today Title May 30, 2024
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2024/4/18
Rapid results, handheld chemistry analyzer for private wells


WT Interview with Matt Mizzi, CEO Drinkable

WT: Thanks for doing this Matt. Tell me about your sensor?

Matt Mizzi: We actually just completed our last sensor yesterday! All are electrochemical sensors. They work on the principal of selective potentiostats, selecting for very subtle differences in potential that can be created by an ion on the surface of a selective electrode. We coat our electrodes in proprietary and novel selective membranes. Those allow only the charge of a specific structure to interact with the surface of the electrode. We can very easily correlate that with a known concentration within a linear slope. Once we have done a little bit of simple math with some other concentrations, we can basically use that calibration curve to infer very accurate and precise readings across a fairly broad range of analytes and concentrations.

WT: The sensor is for well water, you take the device and put it in the water and your device tells you what is in the well water, is that accurate?

MM: Yes. It's a very small handheld device. You fill a glass of water, throw it in the glass of water and just press a button. It's essentially a button-click, within about five to seven minutes we’ll do a broad-spectrum analysis for chemicals and some indicators for non-chemical contaminants. We automate everything. We understand this is a consumer process. This needs to be broken down to be simply understood, simple test to simply understand what the problems are, and a simple course of action to solve the problems. As much as we can, with our integrated mobile app, you would use the app to do more heavy processing and analytics than a device like that would be equipped for. You can do pretty crazy analysis on the broad spectrum testing and know exactly what the risk profile would be and how you would treat that water.

WT: I download your app on my phone, I get a glass of water from the well, I put your sensor in the water, is it going to tell me if there is e.coli, or is it going to say there is too much copper? What does the end-run of what I am going to read on my phone, what does this device say to me, the consumer?

MM: E.coli is a tough one. In theory I think it is past the physics limit of what the electrochemical sensor could do without modifying the cell or the water itself. Going down to one cell per 100 ml of water is excruciatingly painful in terms of electrochemical readings. We are heavily working on a pathway that would basically tell people if there is anything living in the water, we are developing a sensor for that. Right now, we are focusing on chemical analysis, so that's about half the risk profile. That would be for things like lead, arsenic, manganese. Those are three critical ones that show up ubiquitous in well water across North America and the world. Lead, arsenic and uranium are the big worries.

WT: If I am a well owner, is this something that is aimed at a service person that would show up and make sure your well is okay, or is this something that a home-owner would generally buy and test their own water?

MM: The nice part of having an app platform is we could do both. The technology is more than suitable for those technicians but it's also going to be a breath of fresh air for the consumer. I would see it in both hands, probably with a different app interface for each, one that is more pertinent to maintenance, while the other is for personal treatment and management. We would have a simplified version for the consumer, it’s going to be much more simple than the technical reports you'd receive back from a government subsidized lab. We really emphasize what you need to pay attention to, emphasize what those potential health implications could be. Let's say it's nitrate, we might indicate if you've got children or if you are pregnant, you shouldn't be drinking the water. We would give a bit of information about what the background level of nitrate should be, what high levels might indicate about either septic tanks or fertilizer run-off. This allows the customer to get to know their water and build a relationship with it. This is a really simple, scroll bars showing how effective different common treatments might be for specific water. This is applicable for both people (technicians and individual consumers), simple enough for the consumer.

WT: If I am located near farms and I test my water using your sensor, does it tell me anything with phosphate? What else can it do for me, lead, nitrate?

MM: For sure nitrate, this is one of the three macro-nutrient fertilizers, potassium, phosphorous and nitrogen are the three. Nitrate is interesting, in terms of what is likely to be there, how much is likely to be there, if it is a problem and what it indicates. Nitrite isn't quite as interesting, phosphate is similarly not quite as interesting but these are in our tech pipeline, to be working on these sensors. We have a potassium sensor in the array, there are 13 sensors in the array. We will develop the others, however not on the first launch of our product.

WT: Have you got a lot of interest? I am all ears because I have only heard of an edge test, for e.coli, and then a test that has something to do with peeling off a strip, wetting the strip to find out about nitrogen. Has there been a lot of industry interest what you are doing?

MM: Yes, absolutely. I'm not sure I fully wrap my head around why this solution hasn't been developed yet. I do think it should have been now that I very intimately know the limits of the technology. I do think we stumbled in right as it became affordable enough for this to be a high-scale solution for such a wide spectrum of problems in the world.

I think a lot of people are stressed about water in a lot of different ways. Chemical analysis could alleviate a lot of that pain and create autonomy for solving a lot of peoples' own problems, inside and outside of wells.

MM: There has definitely been interest, there has been a lot of interest in aquaculture, the same (contaminants) that make people sick, that are prevalent in water make fish sick. There's hydroponics, high value crops like cannabis that are hyper-accumulators of lead, for instance, it's now being mandated that the water be tested, the hydroponic beds. Those are two unicorn opportunities. We are more particularly interested in the human component first and foremost. US Department of Defense has also shown interest in equipping their soldiers. There have been quite a few distractions, but welcome distractions! I think the prevailing headwinds that companies like us face is that water money is municipal water money. A lot of the LP's are government-related funds. The LPs fund philosophy is focused on municipal water supply. Anything outside of that you are really swimming upstream as a company. That was a really hard hurdle to pass, that's for sure.

WT: The thing out of the gate will test for lead, arsenic and nitrate?

MM: It will test for arsenic, lead, uranium. What's nice is we actually test for arsenate and arsenate. Almost no one else will be able to test for arsenate, which is more dangerous. We will be patenting that approach, it's a novel approach. We also test for potassium, calcium and magnesium, there are twelve or thirteen (analytes). We are also doing water temperature and inferring some things based on conductivity and pH, unfortunately we won't be able to give those assessments to the person we are testing for just yet, there are some tech issues that prevent us from doing that. We use single test cartridges. The device is reusable, comes with food-grade conditioning chemicals, we do need to condition the water to be ensure it is a similar enough electrical environment each time we run the test to know the potential to concentration is accurate. The cartridges are single use, only $20 each, a big improvement over the $100 to $200 tests more typical for chemical analysis.

WT: Thinking back to Walkerton, and the fact that pig excrement got into the well, there were two or three wells polluted. Is this something I could use for that kind of a test?

MM: Unfortunately, no. I think the best indicator for that problem probably would have been E.coli or total coliform, a human poop v. animal poop indicator. Our next device, I mentioned we are working on an organism indicator, it is in the works, I wish I could say more but it is proprietary. This would very much allow you to avoid that problem, to know you should not be drinking that water.

WT: This brings me along to another curious question before I let you go, if I am looking at something like a living thing, like blue-green algae, cyanobacteria, is that something also in the distance for your sensor?

MM: I cannot confirm absolutely, but the same sensor I believe would be usable for that. If my assumption is correct, if there is blue-green algae in your well at any meaningful level, it would strike a positive test long before the bacteria is a problem, it would give off some pretty big flags. Would you know it's blue-green algae? You would have to check for slime, but you could use this to determine if there are living things in your well.

WT Have you got a price point?


MM: Right now we are thinking $175 Canadian, including 2 test cartridges.

WT: When do expect this to hit the market?

MM: Assuming everything goes to plan, we have two launches, a mini-launch for people who pre-ordered, likely next year. A year and a half or so until we hit the market with meaningful numbers. If not, we are going to keep chugging away. We know the money will come eventually and we pretty committed to this problem. The test results could be integrated into a larger platform, if there are a high number of positive tests in your area you could then be prompted to do your own test.

WT: Thanks for doing this. “We are scientists, engineers, business professionals, and environmental stewards, and we share a passion for solving big problems. One of the very biggest is contaminated drinking water, as people rarely test their water because labs and test kits just aren’t practical. We’re addressing this by packaging the entire process into a handheld device that tells people what they need to know in minutes, not weeks.” — Matt Mizzi, CEO, Drinkable

Drinkable








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